Commencement 2022 - Capt. Phillips

Capt. Phillips tells UW-River Falls graduates: Life will be a wild ride, mind that helm

May 7, 2022 -- Capt. Richard Phillips told University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduates Saturday life will be a wild ride.

“It will be fun, challenging, sad, tearful, adventurous and fulfilling,” said Phillips, who was captured by pirates in April 2009 after they attacked and boarded his ship the Maersk Alabama. “You will surprise yourself with what you are, can and will do. Remember, we only get out of life what we put into it.”

Phillips shared his message at two commencement ceremonies in the Falcon Center’s Knowles Field House. More than 800 students graduated.

Chancellor Maria Gallo congratulated the graduates on their accomplishments.

“Graduates, over the years UW-River Falls empowered you to grow as people and scholars,” Gallo said. “You took chances, grabbed opportunities and never gave up. On this college journey, you showed everyone that you are strong, competent and compassionate. There is no doubt in my mind that you have and will continue to make our world a better place.”

Through his life experience, Phillips listed some of the most important things he had learned.

“You are stronger than you ever know,” said Phillips, who wrote a book that became the inspiration for the film “Captain Phillips.” “You can do more, and you can take more. The strength is already inside of you. Don’t worry and cause angst about problems or storms on the horizon. You will figure it out and then act.”

Don’t lose your compass, Phillips added.

“Don’t stop short of your ultimate goal and always keep it in mind,” he said. “Failure is only final when we give up, give in or quit. Many first steps to success are preceded by failures.”

A focused, dedicated and professional team can overcome many obstacles and most problems, Phillips said.

“Learn to not surrender but work through your adversities together as a team,” he noted.

Phillips urged students not to worry about money in their first jobs provided they gained experience, knowledge and responsibility. 

“Challenge in work is more important than money,” he noted. “Time is more important than money.”

Phillips encouraged students to better themselves so that later they could help others.

He urged students to consider getting into politics and public service and to use their energy, dedication and ideas to solve problems through compromise.

He noted their generation is the most photographed one. 

“They say character is what you do when you don’t think someone or a camera is around,” he said. “Remember that in your life. Today, there is little privacy real or cyber. Make your decisions as if people are in the room seeing you. Transparency makes it easier to do the right thing.”

Phillips reminded students they are the captain now of their lives.

“Your ship sails now. Where will you navigate to? Where will you end up? Set your sail, captain. Mind that helm,” he said.

Faculty Senate Chair Doug Margolis said the education students received will develop and evolve during their lives.

“But what starts in the classroom is only the lighting of a wick,” Margolis noted. “That light burns inside you and will shape how you see and understand your world. Every day you will face experiences and challenges that will deepen your understanding and sharpen your skills.”



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