BY MATTHEW WEDDLETON // APRIL 23, 2015 //
Michael Sheehan, chief executive officer of The Boston Globe, will deliver this year’s commencement address on Sunday, May 17. Sheehan, formerly a long-time executive at the advertising firm Hill Holiday in Boston, talks about his upcoming speech, his own career, and the importance of commitment.
What are you most looking forward to in coming to Curry College to deliver the commencement address?
It’s always great to deliver an address to an audience that represents the future. I just love looking out at the graduates, seeing all the potential. This is one of the greatest days of their lives. They’re about to embark on a great journey.
What is your relationship with Curry College?
I’ve known [President] Ken Quigley for a long time. Certainly, I’ve had friends who went there and I know plenty of parents who have sent their kids there.
What will be your biggest piece of advice for the graduating class of 2015?
Start your career. You’re about to embark on a period where there are a lot of distractions and a lot of dynamics that can force you to become a different person. So I think if you can just get through life being yourself, and being true to who you are, and staying down to earth, you’ll always be happy.
For students looking to obtain a job after graduation, what are some of the skills you think are necessary for these students to have?
You got to be able to finish the job. Everyone can start a job; not everyone can finish it. So I think the No. 1 skill of all is having the ability to start a job, get through the middle of it, make it through the ups and downs, and finish whatever you’re doing. Finish it well. I always think you’ll always be successful if someone asks you to do something, and you give it back to them better than they expected. You’ll always have a job.
According to your 2013 commencement speech at Thayer Academy, you said you quit the Naval Academy because it just wasn’t for you. In what situations do you advise someone to quit and look for something else in life?
I think if you’re honest with yourself and you know what’s right and you know what feels right, you have to trust your gut, trust your instinct. I ended up going there (the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.) because I got in, which is not a reason to go somewhere. You lack that commitment, and it’s very easy to not feel right about it and I never have.
You gave the commencement address at Stonehill College last year and said, “Commencement speakers are, by and large, full of crap.” Why is that?
I use examples of ones that I have been to, which were pretty interesting. It was kind of a punch line to a setup. I think a lot of people are full of crap.
Here’s what I think: It is never easy to get in front of a microphone and talk about your life in hindsight, like you planned it all. That’s why I think commencement speakers are full of crap because they’ll get up there and tell you about their life, and it sounds like it was a well-executed plan and thought about. Most successful people I know are nimble.
So, how are you different from other commencement speakers?
I’m taller. I’m younger, but I look older. I think whatever I say. I mean it.
I did the Thayer address…and I told people it really doesn’t matter where you go to college. What matters is what you make of it, who your friends are, and whether you develop a sense of humor. In my life, and I’m 54 now, and nobody has ever asked me for a transcript from Saint Anselm or the Naval Academy.
Why did you choose to major in English at Saint Anselm, and how has studying English in college helped you in your career?
I think English is a great major. I always liked writing. I’ve written as a sports reporter since the time I was 15. By the time I graduated college, I had been sports editor of my town paper for three years and I had written a lot….I was the editor of my high school paper. I was editor of my college newspaper. And I worked at the Globe during college, and I love to work.
How important do you think it is for the Boston Globe to get its stories out onto social media, and how has social media allowed the Globe to expand over the years?
It’s very important because it’s a modern-day version of people sitting around talking about what’s important to them and what they read. If you log onto BostonGlobe.com, you can read five articles [for free, per month] and then you have to pay for it. A lot of that comes through social media.
Looking back at your past two commencement speeches, a lot appears to be the same. Do you plan on dusting off your past two addresses, or do you plan to start from scratch?
I’m starting from scratch. Just the introduction is the same. The middle is different. The message is different.