Graduating with the Chamber

  • By: President/CEO of the Fresno Chamber – Al Smith


“When the ivy halls are far behind; no matter where our paths may wind.  We’ll remember always, graduation day.”  The Four Freshmen – 1956

In May and June each year, many enjoy those inspiring occasions called “graduation”.  From kindergarten to colleges, parents and grandparents join in a collective rejoicing; celebrating individual minds being formed in preparation for a life in the job world.

Your Fresno Chamber may not be Harvard or West Point, but we too enjoy celebrations, hopefully influencing Fresnans that we trust will have a long-lasting positive influence on our future.

For thirty years the Chamber has implemented the very prestigious program called Leadership Fresno – a yearlong program that introduces its participants to all aspects of the area. In addition to a class project designed to improve the area, they learn about our economy, culture, government, agriculture, etc.  Last month over 90 friends joined together to witness the graduating Class 30 of twenty-one leaders that hopefully help shape the future of our Central Valley.

Steering Committee Chair, Christa Short of Terry’s House, praised the group. “That commitment is infectious… it’s the kind of fire we want to start and keep alive.”

The previous year, Class 29, created as their project the Young Entrepreneurs Program, which organized a group of disadvantaged and troubled (expelled) high school students by encouraging them to taste the thrill of starting their own business.   The Chamber organized a 10 week program that coached 20 students through developing a business plan.  In a competition for cash prizes, each student presented their plan with parents, educators, civic and government leaders in attendance. As coordinator Matt Rosenfeld from KSEE24/CBS47 pointed out, “YEP is giving direction and self-worth to a group of young people who have the greatest need. It connects the dots between the classroom and potential careers.”

In fact, the program was so successful it has now become an annual Chamber effort and the second class graduated last month.

There was a third Chamber graduation taking place last month with the celebration of the Chamber’s Junior Board.  This two-year old program is a younger version of Leadership Fresno directed to Fresno County high-school juniors and seniors. Fifty knowledge-thirsty youths discovered landmarks, heard from business and government leaders each month, and performed an ambitious project.

Chamber volunteer Scott Miller of Gazebo Gardens summed up the conclusion of many when he stated, “If those feelings of cynicism about the next generation creep into your mind, I urge you to come meet the Jr. Board of the Fresno Chamber.”

I had never heard of actor/TV producer Charlie Day until I accidentally ran across his unconventional graduation address at Merrimack College (I suggest visiting YouTube and looking up Charlie Day).

I loved his final three thoughts.  “You cannot let a fear of failure or a fear of comparison or a fear of judgment; stop you from doing what’s going to make you great. (1) You cannot succeed without this risk of failure. (2) You cannot have a voice without the risk of criticism. (3) You cannot love without the risk of loss.” He goes on, “I don’t think you should do what just makes you happy. I think you should do what just makes you great…trust your own voice, your own ideas, your honesty, your vulnerability. You do not have to be fearless. Just don’t let fear stop you.  You are going to change the world around you in big ways and small.”

To that advice – your Chamber is trying to play its part.


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