Upper Canada College’s best and brightest boys in Grades 8 through 11 in the last school year were rewarded for their achievements during the annual Prize Day ceremony on Oct. 9 in Laidlaw Hall.
While most of the awards recognized academic prowess in a wide variety of subjects, there were also several extracurricular prizes for those who excelled in other areas. But whatever the reason for receiving recognition, all of those who did were fully deserving.
The students were appreciative of their awards and guest speaker Patrick Iaboni — a parent of two UCC boys, and president and founding partner of the Berkley Group of Companies — encouraged them to celebrate each little success along the journey of life. But he also emphasized the importance of cherishing less tangible things than prizes, and made a few allusions to waterfowl.
If this has piqued your interest, here’s Iaboni’s speech in its entirety:
“First thing’s first: 1,256. I want everybody to remember that number: 1,256.
“Thank you principal Power. It’s really quite an honour to be able to speak to such a talented group of students.
“I’d be surprised if anybody here knows me — other than my two sons who attend this school. And even if they ever see me walking down the hallway here in school, they will pretend not to know me. So as a brief intro, let me tell you a little about myself.
“School always came relatively easy for me and I suspect a lot of you also feel the same way. But I was like a duck. On the surface the duck looks calm and peaceful, and it gracefully glides across the water enjoying the view and enjoying life to its fullest. But underneath the surface, the duck’s little feet are actually paddling away like crazy and working very hard. You just can’t see that part.
“I actually work quite hard at everything I do. And so far my efforts have paid off. The company I started in 1996 by building one single house has now grown to include 10 different businesses in three different countries and six different states, and everything from building condominiums to owning several car dealerships. We even own the master franchise rights for Krispy Kreme Doughnuts in Chicago. The success of the company has allowed me to do some very interesting things in business and it has allowed my family to live a very comfortable lifestyle.
“And this brings me to the point I want to make today. It’s such a cliché, but I think it’s worth repeating: ‘It’s not the goal or destination that counts, it’s the journey along the way that we must cherish.’
“Growing up, I would always try to set modest and achievable goals for myself. I found this to be more encouraging than setting unrealistic goals or ones that would take too long to achieve. There were lots of little goals so that I could enjoy lots of little successes along the way.
“And it takes a lot of little successes to make it big. There is no such thing as an overnight success. Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid didn’t just lace up one morning and become instant hockey stars. They practiced for 10,000 hours before anybody even knew who they were. Similarly, in business and in life there is no overnight success. There are lots of little successes and they should be cherished along the way.
“One that I cherish is when I was 14 years old. I started selling hot dogs at Blue Jays games. I did this for many summers and became quite good at it. In fact, I hold the record for the most hot dogs sold in one day at Exhibition Stadium. Can you guess how many I sold that day? Yes! 1,256.
“It was a hard way to make money, but eventually by selling one hot dog at a time and making 25 cents each, I saved $30,000 that I used to buy my first property. Lots of little successes to eventually make something bigger.
“For all of you receiving awards today, no matter if they are big or small, my advice is to truly cherish them along the way.
“I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve won many awards throughout my life, whether they were for academics or my business accomplishments, but the biggest success by far, the biggest achievement in my life is balance.
“What is a balanced life? Think about it for a minute.
“Balance is working hard while maintaining healthy relationships with your family and friends. A duck leads a pretty balanced life. It works hard, but it stays calm and enjoys the journey along the way.
“You should be a duck.
“Our world is often focused on things that can be measured — like marks, wins and losses, or goals scored. But the best things in life are difficult to measure: family, friends and relationships. The value of those things will make a much bigger impact on your life than your math mark or how many goals you score. There’s no official award or trophy for living a balanced life, but it’s truly the ultimate achievement.
“Part of the balance in my life is that I am also a part-time professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University. I’ve been teaching there for 15 years. I do it as a hobby and as a way to give back to the school that gave so much to me. I’ve seen a lot of students through my classes go on to become hugely successful in their careers. Do you know which ones become the most successful? The ones with the best social skills.
“Do good marks help? Of course they do. But the most successful students are the ones with the best soft skills. The soft skills include your ability to get along with people, building friendships and having a positive attitude. The best way to work on your soft skills are to get involved with as many extra-curricular activities that you can; things like student government, clubs and sports. Being balanced in life improves your soft skills.
“One statistic that is not well known is that people get hired for a job based on their technical skills; things like what degree they graduated with and what other work experience they may have. But the number one reason for getting fired is their soft skills; things like not getting along with their co-workers, or having a negative attitude.
“One of the most important lessons that I teach my students at Schulich is that the soft skills in life will get you further than your technical skills. Working on these skills is a form of maintaining balance in your life.
“And so we have come full circle. To truly enjoy the journey of life, work hard and enjoy those accomplishments along the way, but remember to keep a balance in your life.
“Be a duck.
“That was going to be the end of my speech. But the other night, by chance I came across a letter written by a 17-year-old girl that truly captures the beauty of a balanced life.
“I want to share it here with you:
“’Imagine a baby, 8 months old; lying there in a crib, with very thin blankets wrapped around her, and socks on her tiny little feet, sharing a crib with 10 other babies. At 8 months old, you are unaware of what’s going on. You can’t walk or talk, you can’t say what you’re thinking or how you feel; you’re completely dependent on your parents. But every day instead of your parents coming into the room to pick you up, a group of women would come into the room to do their job — its only their job. There is no affection like a parent would give. They feed you, change you, and move on to the next baby. I was that baby.
“’…but 17 years later and it’s like it never happened.
“’I just came back from a family trip and it is the last week of August. It might sound selfish since I’ve already had two months of summer vacation, but what teenager wants to go back to working at summer camp and then hours and hours of homework and waking up extremely early?
“’My alarm wakes me up at 7:00 am. Still jet lagged and after hitting the snooze button too many times, I have to scramble to make it to work on time. I rush down the stairs to make myself some breakfast and a green tea. As I get there I notice the kettle is already boiled and a peanut butter and jam sandwich is on the counter for me. I know my mom has made me breakfast. And she’s also made me smile.
“’I get to work a few minutes early, but soon after the campers start arriving. I’m tired so the hours pass slowly and painfully. I have children climbing all over me, asking me a million questions, crying, and screaming in my ears. I feel like my head is going to explode. But then, I see my sister (she is only 5 years old) walking with her camp. She calls out my name and waves at me with a big smile on her face. In return, this puts a big smile on my face too.
“’It is 4:30, and I finally get to go home. As I enter the front door I see my mom and grandmother and they ask me ‘how my day was?’ and when I tell them, ‘It was long and tiring’ they give me words of encouragement.
“’The day is coming to an end and one of my favorite parts is sitting down and eating dinner with my family. My dad comes home from work and we all sit down. At the table are my two brothers from Korea, my 5 year old sister from China, my mom and grandmother who are Danish, my dad who is Italian, and our nanny who is Filipino. It is my favorite meal, and when we all get our food we just start talking and sharing stories with each other.
“’At this moment, as we are all sitting down together, having a good time and being ourselves… I realize this is my family, this is my life, and how thankful I am. My life has been shaped by the decision two people made over 17 years ago. They decided to adopt a child. They got me, and I got a chance at the kind of life all children deserve. Blood wouldn’t make us any closer.’”
“That’s the end of the letter. The 17-year-old girl who wrote it is my daughter.
“As you might imagine, the feelings I get from reading this letter are better than any trophy and better than any business achievement I ever accomplished. A balanced life is truly the ultimate achievement. So remember:
“Be a duck.”