Spring is for flowers, green grass, new calves and graduation. Of all the milestones in life – that first driver’s license, marriage, birth of a child – none are more representative of change than graduation.

As my daughter graduated from high school Sunday night, I paused to reflect on all the changes that her milestone represents for her and our family. She’ll soon be off to college, which is the biggest change, although we’re not empty-nesters, yet. We still have three years before our son walks across that same stage.

Maybe you’ve already watched a son or daughter graduate from high school, and you’re quite familiar with how it changed their life – and yours.

I like the graduation season, and I especially like commencement speeches. Here are some of my favorite quotes delivered at commencement ceremonies:

“If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.”
Vince Lombardi, Green Bay Packers’ football coach

“If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door.”
Milton Berle, comedian

“If you feel that you have both feet planted on level ground, then the university has failed you.”
Robert Goheen
Time Magazine, 23 June 1961

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!”
Andy McIntyre

Yes, graduation represents change in many people’s lives. But as I watched the ceremony Sunday night I realized that the gymnasium filled with 3,000 people also represents many changes in our society – and was a reflection of the consumers you now seek to satisfy.

My daughter had 460 classmates. Most will go to college next fall, while some will enter the work force. Ten of her classmates will join America’s armed services. Two of those graduates were recognized as National Merit Finalists, and two earned perfect scores of 36 on their ACT tests.

Most astonishing to me, however, was the sheer size of the event. There were 35 members of my high school class, so my daughter’s class was roughly 13 times larger. It would have been a struggle to fill the gymnasium at my daughter’s school if every resident of my home county attended graduation.

This year, the graduating class of the high school in my home town was roughly half the size of what it was when I graduated. Those statistics are similar to population trends across the nation – suburban areas are growing while rural areas are losing population. That simple fact matters a great deal to those who produce and market food to America’s consumers.

I recently uncovered another great commencement-speech quote that I believe is extremely appropriate for America’s food producers. The quote is from Joanne C. Jones, a nurse from Delaware.

“During my second year of nursing school our professor gave us a quiz. I breezed through the questions until I read the last one: ‘What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?’ Surely this was a joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our grade. ‘Absolutely,’ the professor said. ‘In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.’ I've never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.”

Inspiring? Yes. Now re-read that quote, but in your mind insert the image of a customer for your food products in place of the cleaning lady. As the professor said, all people (customers) are significant. They deserve our attention and care.

We can’t give all of our customers the attention and care they deserve with one generic beef, pork or milk product. Some of those customers want (and can afford) specially grown or raised products. Others are more concerned with quantity and price, and we can serve them, too.

But most important, all of our customers deserve our best efforts to ensure that all of our agricultural products are safe and of the highest quality. And that will never change.

Source: Greg Henderson, Drovers