Bill Haslam gave a keynote speech at the University of Tennessee‘s graduation ceremony Saturday, during which he displayed an easygoing, self-deprecating sense of humor, and intimated that selflessness and mental agility are two of the most important characteristics he’s looking for in prospective cabinet members.
After apologizing for being less famous than previous keynote speakers, like Dolly Parton and Al Gore, the governor-elect and soon-to-be former Knoxville mayor playfully revealed he’s “used to disappointing people.”
He then related an anecdote about an elderly gentleman who once showed up for a Haslam appearance at a neighborhood park under the erroneous impression that people were congregating to view a “bear,” not the “mayor.” Understandably let down, the man left soon after the misunderstanding was cleared up, Haslam said.
Haslam also shared with students what it was like for his wife, Crissy, to listen to the same speeches day after day on the campaign trail: She mastered the art of looking at him endearingly without listening to a word he was saying.
Haslam’s talk before the fall 2010 graduates marked one of the few lengthy speeches he’s delivered since being elected last month.
It wasn’t all jocularity, though. Haslam told the graduating class that his own two-year journey toward the gubernatorial election was not unlike the four-or-more year commitment necessary to earn a college degree.
He drew parallels between the preparations he had to undertake to face off against campaign opponents during debates with the day-to-day challenges students confront as they work their way through studies and exams.
Even more demanding tests of commitment to success still await in the future, Haslam said, both for him and the graduating students embarking upon their careers and postgraduate studies.
Haslam urged them to always resist any temptation to be “intellectually lazy,” that individuals should strive always to be life-long learners, good listeners, and to “be a person of grace.” In addition to that, he said, they should also learn how to deal with disappointment and “work really, really, really hard.”
Those are some of qualities Haslam said he seeks in the cabinet-level candidates he’s interviewed since his election to the state’s highest office, adding that he’s drawn to people without ego and those who ask good questions to learn from others.
Haslam will be inaugurated on Jan. 15, taking over for termed-out Gov. Phil Bredesen.