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Class of 2021 Commencement Address: Shannon Huffman Polson

We were honored to have Shannon Huffman Polson as our 2021 Commencement Speaker! Polson is the first woman to fly the Apache helicopter in the Army. She is also the author of The Grit Factor: Courage, Resilience and Leadership in the Most Male Dominated Organization in the World, and the founder of the Grit Institute, a leadership consultancy committed to whole leader development and a focus on grit and resilience. She left our graduates feeling inspired and ready to tackle their next chapter of life.

Polson started by asking the audience, “Does anyone know in which direction you take off in the Apache helicopter? You turn the nose into the wind, and the resistance will help you rise.” She explored this idea of facing resistance head on through her three pillars of grit.

First, she told the members of the graduating class to own their story: “Don’t let anyone define your story for you, not ever.” She shared her own struggle with her story and the work that it takes to protect your story from those who want to put you in a box and define it for you.

Through the second pillar, Polson encouraged the class to find their purpose, even if it takes a decade or two. “Purpose is going beyond your story. You drill down and connect to your core purpose, your heart purpose,” said Polson. She went on to explain how purposeful it is living for the greater good, and “once you connect to that purpose, make it your target. Put it in your crosshairs, because once you find that purpose, you find that grit that each one of us has. You find your grit between your core purpose and your passions,” encouraged Polson.

In the final takeaway, Polson reminded the audience that your mindset or optimism is a choice that you make every single day, and a key part of that mindset is to “never lose faith that you will prevail in the end.”

Polson ended her address by wishing the class of 2021 her best. “You all have much to be proud of and I hope you will enjoy the opportunities to celebrate the successes. You land the same way you face fear. You land the same way you face failure. You turn the nose to face the wind. Class of 2021, face the wind, and may God bless you.”

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