Gurbaksh Chahal | Graduation Commencement Speech at Evergreen College

Gurbaksh Chahal's Graduation Commencement Speech

Below is the commencement speech I delivered to the graduating class at Evergreen College on May 28th, 2010.

Thank you, Evergreen College, for asking me to speak here today. I feel honored.

Everything starts with a dream, a particle of our imagination that teases us of what the future could be like, as long as we fight for it. I’m proud of all of you in accomplishing one of your dreams today. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the same classroom experience like you did, but education has been the epicenter of my life. And sometimes, the education we receive from life experiences and some unorthodox decisions can still lead us to the right path. It starts with that inner desire of wanting to succeed. And, then you just need to believe.

People have asked me, who was your motivation to be where you are today. And, my answer has always been, my grandmother. She unfortunately, recently passed away.

Her life journey revolved around sacrifice and struggle but she harnessed it with love. She taught me that sacrifice instills discipline, struggle reminds you of the journey, but the choice to love teaches you to forgive.

Today, I’m here to share these very 3 themes with you: Sacrifice, Struggle, Love.

Sacrifice. When your working hard, no one claims luck. When you begin to achieve, people begin to stamp it as just fate. You will have bad days. There will be setbacks. You will have more than your fair share of failures. But at the end of the day, you pick yourself up and keep going. That’s the Big Secret of Life. You fall down, you get up. Every time you do this, your barometer of courage will shine. I know this to be true because it worked for me, and I’m just a guy like everybody else. And, the only handout in life we all get is the present. Don’t expect anything to happen – go out and get it. Life’s simply too short. And you have to cherish every moment.

I recently came back from India. And I visited the village of where my grandmother’s family still lives. The biggest asset they had was the love flowing in between them. But, everything else monetarily was blank. It made me realize truly the sacrifice that my grandmother made over 60 years ago. She was a single mother and her family was poor. She herself lost her mother when she was 9, and had to become the mother of the family. When she had my father, she realized she wanted to give him the chance at life. And, my father in return was the ambitious type who wanted that chance. My grandmother did small jobs such as picking chilies at the farm to collect every penny she could to provide for her son. My father who knew every sacrifice she was making to make ends meet, didn’t take anything for granted. To study for homework, he used to walk kilometers away to find a lamppost that would have enough light. This is called sacrifice. And, eventually this would be the same discipline my parents raised me with to create the person I am today. My father went on to graduate from college, got married, and after having their 4th child (me), applied for VISA for America through a lottery system. Eventually, they received it. And their definition of sacrifice took on another geography.

Struggle. It is the beginning. It reminds us that we’ve started our mission. And sometimes, we’re tested far more than others. But for every test we’re faced, we must know that if we continue fighting throughout our journey, eventually success will follow. Take chances. Without risk, there is no reward. But make sure it’s intelligent risk. Only a fool bets against Michael Jordan (until it’s time to bet against Michael Jordan). Those who dream and count on luck, get surrounded by jealousy. Those who dream and let struggle drive them, get surrounded by ambition.

When I was a kid, I remember coming home every day from school to my grandmother with my self-esteem in shreds. For being different, I was teased relentlessly as a child. I had a choice to make. I could either become an introvert and let this negative noise consume me, or I could go accept the fact that I’m different and realize “okay, what now.” That exact feeling gave me strength to focus on my passion and eventually figure out that one thing I’m good at. Business. Obviously, when I entered the world of business at age 16, it wasn’t easy. My lack of education, money, and background were all against me. But, I didn’t let that come in the way of writing my own destiny. Now, that I look back at that journey, every struggle I faced matured me to accept every battle that came in the way.

Love. If you have a choice between hatred or forgiveness. Pick forgiveness. It will mature you in more ways than one and let you look at life differently. We have to own our mistakes. At the end of the day, every decision we make, even if it was inspired by misguided advice, was our decision. Nobody wins when you start looking for someone to blame. Let it go. Keep moving. Forward movement is everything.

Six months after I started my first company, I received a threat from a rogue employee that if I didn’t give them 1/3 of my Company he would shut me down. Being 16, not knowing what a threat or extortion was, I tried to call his bluff. And moments later, I was out of business. I felt naked. I felt everything I worked for when I dropped out of high school was about to be taken away from me, simply because of someone else’s greed. But, I took a deep breath and realized it was time for me to take back control. I was out of business for a full week. Imagine that, no website, no email, nothing. After the most painful week as a 16-year old, I was able to get back control but this time with a tainted name. I had to go up against upset customers that lost money because of the fact I was down. I accepted what happened and tried to pick up the pieces. Remembering the words of my grandmother, I didn’t resort to hate, I didn’t resort to vengeance. I forgave. And, used it as a lesson, as a stepping-stone for my maturity as an entrepreneur. 15 months from that incident, I sold my first Company for $40 million. I guess, karma has its own way of working out. It may not happen right away, but it does find its way into life’s most complicated times.

Finally, I want you to look around to the loved ones that came to support you today. Look in their eyes, and you will see they are proud of a great step you accomplished today. Give them a hug. And, if your lucky – and your parents are here today. Hug them like you’ve never hugged them before. Thank them for allowing you to grow up.

If you’re fortunate enough, you’ll be the ones raising them, as they grow old.

Thank you.