Spring Ahead

Chris Bender, one of four doctorate recipients, was the featured speaker at the Mount Marty College commencement.

Home-grown success story Chris Bender addressed fellow graduates about achieving in life at the 2019 spring commencement at Mount Marty College Saturday.

At the commencement, degrees were conferred on all spring graduates, including four doctoral degrees in Nurse Anesthesia Practice. Not only was it the first doctorate degrees conferred by MMC, it was also reportedly the first time in South Dakota’s history that a private college has awarded doctoral degrees.

Bender, a nurse anesthetist, was one of the four doctoral degree recipients that morning. He is the director of Anesthesia Services at Vance Thompson Vision in Sioux Falls and also earned his Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and his Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia degree from MMC.

“Chris is certainly no stranger to Mount Marty,” said MMC president Marcus Long in his introduction of Bender. “He grew up on this campus, as his father, Charlie Bender, and Charlie’s employees at Welfl Construction in Yankton literally built many of Mount Marty’s facilities.”

Bender worked on the construction of the Cimpl Arena as a teen, and claimed to have been the first person to sweep the gymnasium floor, Long said.

“He also maintains that he might have placed a beer can or two into the forms on the pillars that hold this building up,” Long added.

Before beginning his speech, Bender acknowledged his wife, Andrea, his fellow doctoral graduates and all nurses in recognition of nursing week, as well as all those connected to MMC.

“Congratulations Class of 2019,” he began. “You deserve to be honored for the sacrifice and perseverance each of you put into achieving your milestone today.”

Bender described how MMC had been an important part of his life, as he grew up living just three blocks from campus. He not only voted his involvement in the construction of Cimpl Arena as a teen, but also in the Little Lancers Basketball Program as a child.

“When President Long asked me to speak to you today, I thought, ‘Oh boy! I am going to teach you all of the secrets of success. I am going to tell you all of the pitfalls and minefields to avoid. You are going to be next 100-or-so presidents of the United States because you are going to be so full of wisdom when you leave here,’” he said. “But then I came down to earth.”

He related how he had started his undergraduate degree at a large university, and promptly flunked out.

“I was too immature, too stubborn to admit to myself that I wasn’t responsible or disciplined enough for higher education,” Bender said. “So when I came to MMC as a student, I was a failure. (But) Mount Marty’s small class sizes, dedicated professors, and the culture of responsibility and accountability helped me change that. Once I came here as a student, I began to succeed.”

Bender shared a favorite quote that he said summed up his life at that time.

“Winston Churchill said, ‘Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts,’” he said. “Success is not a destination. Success is not a mountaintop for you to find and (stay on) for all eternity.”

To be a success requires constant work, continuous growth, results and innovative ideas for products and procedures, and the leaders of industry he has met do not rest on their laurels, he said.

“Their prior accomplishments are the building blocks to continue to innovate and bring new ideas and products to their chosen fields,” he said. “They are the building blocks for continued success.”

Though no one wants to be associated with failure, all of us fail at some point in our lives, Bender said.

“Most failures are small, some are a little bit bigger, maybe requiring some soul searching, some are life changing,” he said. “But Churchill was right about failure: it’s not fatal.”

Not achieving a desired result does not necessarily make the person a failure, he said.

“I dare to say that many failures are wrapped up nice and neat with pretty ribbons and bows, and you call them ‘learning experiences,’ to take the sting out of what they really are: they are failures,” Bender said. “Funny thing about these little failures though: They are excellent teachers. They teach us lessons about what we should or should not do in the future. They probably teach more important lessons than our successes do.”

If lessons are learned, the small learning experiences are not repeated and results are better, he said.

As far as the big failures go, Bender said, “Everyone has them, so try to get them over with early.”

“But it’s not about falling flat on your face that counts; it’s about how you chose to respond to that adversity that counts,” he said. “When we experience spectacular failures, there are many lessons to learn. But pick yourself up, dust yourself off and be a better person for having gone through the adversity.”

For success in the real world, Bender advised his fellow graduates to pursue excellence rather than perfection.

“Seeking perfection requires you to move heaven and earth to achieve something that is just perfect for a fleeting moment,” he said. “In pursuit of perfection, one can also develop unsavory characteristics like impatience, intolerance and disrespectfulness for those who do not seek perfection.”

Seek excellence, he advised. It is uncompromising, it is refusing to accept policies and ideals that lead to less than the best outcome and it is inclusive, inviting all to achieve the best with you.

“But most importantly, excellence is sustainable. Excellence can be maintained throughout an entire career and a lifetime,” Bender said.

Follow @Cora Van Olson on Twitter.

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