2016 Rio Olympics - Athletics - Final - Women's 4 x 400m Relay Final - Olympic Stadium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 20/08/2016. Allyson Felix (USA) of USA celebrates as team USA win the gold. This win is Felix's sixth gold in track and field.
2016 Rio Olympics - Athletics - Final - Women's 4 x 400m Relay Final - Olympic Stadium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 20/08/2016. Allyson Felix (USA) of USA celebrates as team USA win the gold. This win is Felix's sixth gold in track and field. Reuters / Lucy Nicholson

'Tis the season for commencement speeches, when the nation's newest college graduates will listen to a few choice words to help launch them into the rest of their lives.

The advice tends to hit on the big issues of life: Family, friendships, faith, purpose - and, yes, work and money. Whether we like it or not, our finances and careers make up major portions of our lives, and we could all use a little guidance.

So what did this year's commencement speakers have to say on the subject of our financial futures? A selection:

Allyson Felix, America's most decorated Olympic track athlete

Advice: Know your worth and think about those who will come after

The legendary track queen and multiple Olympic gold medalist spoke at the University of Southern California, and got into the details of her famous contract squabble with shoe and apparel giant Nike Inc.

"I was in the middle of a two-year-long contract negotiation with Nike, and their initial offer was 70% less than what I had previously been making - and that was even before they knew about my pregnancy. I felt worthless ...

"The money felt like a slap in the face, but I could handle that. What I asked for was maternity protection ... but they weren't ready to give it to all female athletes.

"So here is where we are: I was pregnant, I was scared, and I was staring at a contract that provided me with exactly what I was asking for, but in a way that would only benefit me and not all of the women who came after me ... I knew what I had to do ... What's absolutely incredible is that three weeks after I wrote an op-ed, Nike did the right thing. They changed their maternity policy."

Ken Jeong, Actor and comedian

Advice: Persist

The scene-stealing actor from TV shows and movies like "Community" and "The Hangover" spoke at Tulane University in New Orleans, and admitted he "never said what I'm about to say right now" about bouncing back from failure.

"People ask me all the time, what is your key to success? Is it talent? No. Is it luck? No. Is it even being smart? No. To the class of 2022, the key to success is persistence...

"I came to New Orleans in personal turmoil. I was in med school at UNC (University of North Carolina), and the reason I came to Tulane was because I was burned out. I wasn't doing well in med school, and I was close to failing out. In fact I did fail. I had failed not only my first step of my medical board exam, I also failed my second step. It was the first time I really failed when it counted. Twice...

"I didn't know if medicine was right for me. I was at a crossroads, thinking I don't have what it takes to be a doctor, and I really had to figure out who I was ... Long story short, I was able to hang in there, and by the end of the year, I retook both steps of my board exams here in New Orleans and passed, and ultimately was able to graduate medical school. I had a second chance in life. I got myself back on track."

Patrick Gelsinger, CEO of Intel Corp

Advice: Find a mentor

The CEO of the chipmaking giant spoke at Ohio State University about the importance of having someone - or even better, multiple people - to help guide your career path.

"I got a phone call from Andy Grove, soon to be CEO of the company, semiconductor genius, management guru, and future Time Magazine Man of the Year.

"He said, 'I was impressed by the presentation you gave, Pat. What do you read, what do you study, what are you working on, what are your career goals?' Well, I was shocked, and muttered some lame answers.

"He quickly shot back, 'Those are lousy answers - be in my office in a week with better ones.' That began a mentoring relationship that lasted for 35 years until Andy's passing.

"Mentoring with Andy Grove was like going to the dentist and not getting Novocaine. But those are the kind of people you need in your life: If you are going to be made better, they will make you better. We are diamonds in the rough, and we need people like Andy Grove to knock off those rough edges.

"Every major successful person I have met with, can reflect on their own Andy Grove. I challenge you: Do you have that influence in your life?"


© Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022. All rights reserved.