The following is the text of the commencement address by James Prom, which he delivered at Stritch's Minnesota commencement ceremony June 1 at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.
Good afternoon. You have got to try this. I
haven’t had this much adrenalin since the engine went out on my ultra light
airplane. To give myself a few deep
breaths to download this, I ask you to to take a bold risk. Turn to a random
stranger and introduce yourself. Give your first name only. Go ahead. I’m going
to take a drink of water.
Thank you. Statistically, 50%
of you have already forgotten the name.
My name is James but most
call me Jim. I am a risk taker. I take risks. That’s how I arrived here.
This is a great honor for me.
Since my graduation in 1999, it tops the list of recent honors I have received
in the last few years. I have been honored by the City of Plymouth. Honored by my
Knights of Columbus dubbing me Grand knight. Honored by a Navy SEAL who offered
me a full-time position to manage their prototype business. All of these
honors occurred recently due to a single change in my personality. That change is humility.
Oh boy. Now you are probably
thinking, Really? Humble people don’t get up and proclaim their humility.
True, they don’t. But to every rule,
there is an exception. My story of this prodigal son may be that exception.
As I share it with you I invite you to ruminate on the difference between
confidence and arrogance, bold risk and reward, and then I have a challenge for you.
In 1964, Fred Smith produced a
movie titled, "Seven Up." It followed one class of British children with
interviews and observations at the ages 7, 14, 21,and 28. What was fascinating about
it was the uncanny uniqueness of each personality and outcome of each child.
The disciplined one at seven was the disciplined one at 28. The wild one at 7
was the same. The prodigal son at 7 was still learning the hard way at 28. This
movie, along with life experience, revealed a natural truth. Our personality and
nature is hard wired in a particular way from the instant we appeared material
in this time space distortion of a largely unknown universe. It also hinted at
a potential truth that is worthy of investigation. What made you happy when you
were 7 was God’s or nature's hint to what would make you happy now. The American dream encapsulates the ultimate
human experience in the history of the planet. Pursuing true happiness is a
course you should carefully consider. It takes a risk.
example, when I was seven, I loved adventure, and hunting, butterfly hunting. There
was always a bigger and better one around the corner. My buddies would build
devices to extend net range and collect and frame them like the Robinson family. I
also remember we used to play a game of emergency based on the television show
about Squad 51. I was Jonnny and Mike was Roy. I was the ambulance driver and
would come screaming down the hill to rescue and help others. That was my hint.
My hint to happiness was adventure, excitement and helping people.
I was formally schooled at St.
Charles and Totino-Grace in Fridley. Frankly, I didn't enjoy it too much. Not that
I was looking forward to the paper route, mind you, I just didn't like sitting
and structure. I graduated high school in 1981 without significant accomplishment other
than being the president of the band. At 15, I took an EMT course at Spring Lake park and
at 21 I was working on the ambulance. From then to 28 I took every new risk I
could regarding life. My brothers built a home, I flew ultralight airplanes and
was part of the cardiovascular industry’s beginning. After dropping out of
Winona State, my next decade was a series of medical jobs that I trained in on
Starting with my early dream
I drove the ambulance like a mad man. I was whistling
down County 10 at 90 miles an hour saving lives and transporting the elderly.
After I mastered that job I was hungry
for more. My never-ending search for adventure took me to the ER, morgue and
Cath labs of many hospitals here and in L.A.
In 1990, a new company called Interventional
Technologies. developed a new device that was super high risk for the worst
patients, often dying on the table. They needed a clinical specialist that
could teach the physician while the patient was dying, and if necessary take over
if the technique looked too dangerous. Hmm, danger, life and death, sky miles and
a company car! I took a risk. All over California and Nevada that is. This
work was the most challenging work I had to date. I knew It would take more effort to master.
If the doctor or tech pushed too hard the device would cut through the patient's
bypass graft and filled the patient's chest with blood, assuring death…in about
30 minutes of absolute medical intensity. In the past I had taught CPR and it
occurred to me that there was no angioplasty manikin. So I did what most entrepreneurs do. I went
into the garage and made one. Now life was advancing and I needed to get
serious. My wife had her degree, was excelling in sales, and I needed to go back
So I was 31 years old
with an idea and a 1-year-old daughter. It could have seemed daunting if I were
not conditioned to risk. It was time to multitask. Formal school was always a
chore for a ADHD boy who doesn't sit still. When I first learned of Stritch, I didn't believe it could be true. One class every month. Really? Little did I
know how perfect it was. I needed to understand how to start and grow a
business. My courses were taught by rational critical thinkers who taught me
the knowledge that I needed most. My capstone was the business plan for
Invasive Models. I earned a B.
many setbacks, I followed the capstone and succeeded in introducing Angiogram
Sam to the market. In three years I established it as the standard for training
invasive technique. I sold the company
in 2005 as we moved into our fifth home and third on a lake.
It was so perfect. We had a million
dollar home and I was a successful businessman.
couldn't believe how relatively easy it was to be successful. What could
possibly go wrong? William Clinton said, “life’s deepest wounds are usually self
My confidence had turned to
arrogance. I had gone from adventurer and confident master of patient care to
successful small businessman who could do what others could not….or rather
would not. What could go wrong? Me, that’s what could go wrong.
So this is the one class I
must have missed...humility. An acquaintance at our kids' school called me one day to pitch
a plan for a multi-million market idea. Roameo …a GPS dog color that would
allow the owner to use GPS instead of wires in the ground, At first I was suspicious
and hesitant. With some prodding and encouragement from others, I took a risk.
My attorney neighbor said I
was crazy…. I was crazy,.. crazy full of myself. The red flags were everywhere, but I paid
The business plan showed a
solid market and 10,000 units a year in only three years. This aggressive plan had
to be executed with precision. First
step was to get a patent on the utility and build a prototype. Right off the bat, flags appeared. The CEO and CFO were friends and had tried this before and
failed. After giving them initial funding they refused to sign a buy-sell
agreement and had no idea what their exit number was on the stock. As I
continued to fund and research solutions to the problems in the software and
technology, my money ran out and I reached out to my family and friends.
completion of the prototype, it was time to brand Roameo and give it a tagline. "Roameo…There’s no place like home" was my favorite. I asked the CEO what he
thought it should be. “Let your wallet be mine!” he blurted out. Startled, I
asked again. He said it again. Oooo, gut punch. I thought we were in the
business of creating something new and helpful. I was wrong. After much turmoil
we finished the prototype. It was Shark Tank time and I was hopeful that we
would raise $8-10 million. As I arranged and attended the venture capital
meeting with the CEO, clarity and wisdom came upon me. Each of the five meetings
went as follows. The venture guy sees the technology and spends 10 minutes
asking us eyeball to eyeball, “Does this really work?”
“YES,” I would answer.
“OK how much do you need?”
know," replied the CEO.
“What do I have to give up?”
These seven words killed the meetings, then
killed the company. The CEO wanted to keep control despite directly telling me
he would give it up. I left the company
10 months before it declared bankruptcy.
Lying in a pile of mud I had
gone from millionaire to broke. I lost my savings, I lost my siblings' money, my
friends' money, and my dignity. I had nothing but humiliation. No one would trust me again. It changed my
Broke, rejected and
humiliated, I dropped to my knees. O God, help me.
About the same time one of the people who
bought my heart model company called me. He was in serious trouble. His
partners had sold the inventory and he had parts that no one could assemble. I
told him I would assemble the 1,000 models for him at $20 a piece. Sitting in
the mud hole praying of mercy, mercy came. I assembled his models. He paid his
debts and gave me my molds back. In 2011, I had the chance to start over. Lucky
me! I did start over. I found new partners who were decent and honest. I have
revenue coming back in and my new interests have kept me on the right track.
The first time I ran for
office I was still a bit burned and bitter about the Roameo thing. My neighbor decided
that since I paid a handsome fee for my lake lot, he could split his off and do
the same. As he lied to the council and I saw them buy his line, it hit me
again. I could do that job. Why doesn't someone see through this and say no?
humiliated by the loss at Roameo, my entrepreneurial self went for it. I entered
the race. Brash and arrogant, I pretty much told them “I can do this job.” Talk
about ingratiating. They smiled politely as I was given access to the
information they receive as I ran in 2008. In a five-way race (with an incumbent in
the year Plymouth was named best city to live in by Money magazine), I came in
third. Something about "epic fail" put the final nail in my ego's coffin. I
returned to my faith for the first time in my life.
In the following five years, I
trained and became a licensed pyro technician with Zambelli fireworks. It was
simple work, not easy, or really profitable. Through a humble spirit and bold
action, I was offered the best job in the industry. One man shows at Valleyfair -- it was the pinnacle of achievement for a old hobby. Always looking for
opportunity, I ran into a Navy SEAL, Larry Yatch, one day, and he had a business idea
of his own. He was back from the Gulf War and opened a self-defense center in
New Hope teaching Navy SEAL techniques to civilians. Can you say, "Where do I sign up?" So I took a
bold risk. He needed instructors to teach and 10 military guys and I
participated in a two-day tryout. They chose
three. Yup, I was third again. Far from the bottom, I couldn't believe my luck. He
said, “Jim, I want you to develop the Permit to Carry 8 hour class." So I did.
Another election year and I decided
to go for my ward. The incumbent was there for 18 years and not thrilling
everyone. I was handing out constitutions while she walked with her little green
wagon. This time I had to do something different. So I knocked on doors. I
listened. I didn't argue and politely went on my way. She beat me, but not in the
areas where I actually talked to the people. Humility and bold risk paid off.
In reality, local government, which is closest
to the people, is not the dramatic folly we see in the federal government. These
people are all well-accomplished critical thinkers trying to do what is right.
They must be willing to sell themselves, door to door, and then conduct the
business of the city. It’s fun, interesting and sometimes a bit frustrating all
in the same day. It was my return to humility that directly contributed to my
new happy life.
In all seriousness, I
challenge all of you to be humble in spirit and risk boldly. Humble wisdom. Wisdom comes from the fear of the lord. Most
Americans knew this in our founding and throughout our short history. Had I not
been humiliated, I would not have accepted wisdom. I would not be Plymouth City
council member, Navy SEAL permit to carry instructor, state-licensed pyro,
heart model business owner and now commencement speaker at my private university.
So now that you know a little about me I’d be curious about you. Not so much about your
cultural background, or your orientation or gender. You are not a skin color, a
gender or an orientation. You are not a worker or a disabled person. You are a
miracle that is here right now with these other miracles. Uniquely created in a
single instant in time by two half cells becoming one. How lucky are you. A close
scrutiny of the likelihood that those variables would all line up is
staggering. You could be from nearly identical odds of time color, gender, etc. and be completely different people.
The family is the perfect example of the
diversity of the individual. With the major variables of genetics and environmental
variables being nearly identical. One would think the product would be very
similar. Not so fast. Tiny fluctuations
in behavior and attitude trigger changes in the micro environment of family,
that results in major diverse differences in otherwise two identical group
members. No, you are not a member of a group, unless you cede your individually
beauty to the collective. I don’t see you that way. My best friend is a first
generation immigrant from Lebanon. I didn’t know he would be my best friend. I
just wanted a decent person who shared similar interest and values. It’s really
not too difficult to find new friends this way,
but it takes a few years to break down the barriers to trust and find true friendship. Trust, like how you
trust yourself, is the most important variable to true friendship. Without
trust, all relationships and institutions decay to failure.
how will you do in the next 15 years?
brings humility to the arrogant. You, however, don’t have to be humiliated to
choose to be humble in spirit. Now it’s your turn. Consider the risk you took
at the beginning of this talk. You introduced yourself to a total stranger. Are
they decent? How decent? How will you know? Victor Frankel wrote in "Man's Search
for Meaning" that there are only two kinds of people -- the decent and the indecent.
I agree. If you are not humble, you are likely to become indecent. Taking bold risks
with decent people will lead to a full and happy life, and perhaps even the
honor of giving a commencement speech 15 years from now.
I challenge you now, Class of 2014, be
humble in spirit, and risk boldly in your action.
will bless you, beyond your expectations. Thank