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Yaroslavsky Encourages Grads to “Do Something Important with Your Life” PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry | Sun Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 01 May 2014 06:27


Photo Credit: Ron Hall

Zev Yaroslavsky

As Zev Yaroslavsky approaches the end of his final term as a Los Angeles County Supervisor, he is getting opportunities to pass on his thoughts and experiences.

One such opportunity came on Saturday, April 26, when Yaroslavsky spoke to 2014 graduates at Pepperdine University.

“I wanted to share a couple of thoughts with you and then I’m gonna sit down. Because I don’t know if you want to hear a long speech from a politician,” Yaroslavsky said. “But maybe you wanna hear a couple of things that have happened to this politician that have stayed with him throughout my life.”

Yaroslavsky, whose Third District includes the San Fernando Valley and who will leave office in December when his fourth term expires, began with a story from his own college days at UCLA. He was learning to be an intramural league basketball referee, and the Pac-8 (now Pac- 12) brought in an working referee to give the Yaroslavsky and others some pointers.

“The one thing I remembered he said was ‘if you make a bad call, don’t ever admit it. Because you’ll never live it down,’” the supervisor said. “That was maybe good advice for a basketball referee, but very poor advice in life. When you make a bad call, you should at least admit it to yourself. And when you see you’re on the wrong course, it’s no shame to change course. The shame and the problems arise when, faced with incontrovertible evidence that what you’re doing is heading you off a cliff, that you keep going right off the cliff. That is big time folly, as Barbara Tuchman defined it in her book ‘The March Of Folly.’

“I learned that lesson at an early stage of my political career. And I will tell you I was served well, and have been served well a number of years, by being able to say to my staff and my department heads, ‘you know something? It occurs to me that the course we’re on is a disaster. Let’s cut our losses now and change course.’ It may be an embarrassment in the short run, but it’s the right decision in the long run.”

Yaroslavsky also invoked the names of UCLA legends John Wooden and Jackie Robinson during his remarks.

“Coach John Wooden had many great lines [including] this one: ‘Reputation is what other people think of you. Character is who you really are. And only you know who that is.’ People have character, and that character is informed by your values, and principally by your ethics. It may sound like a trite saying; but you will go long in life if you’re true to yourself, and you’re true to your spouse, your family, your colleagues, your community and your country,” Yaroslavsky said.

“In politics, I can tell you there are not a lot of people who follow that John Wooden axiom. Character is what it’s all about. People judge you, not by your reputation, but by your character. The people who count will judge you by your character. So build your character one block at a time. Don’t ever compromise it; don’t every compromise your ethics.”

He then challenged the graduates to “do something important with your life,” to be willing to help and provide for others less fortunate.

“I’m reminded again of the quote from Jackie Robinson, one of the great quotes of all time: ‘A life is only important insofar as it makes an impact on another life.’ So I challenge you to have an important life, to make your life important.

“Do something for somebody else. If you go into public service, and I encourage you to do so… whether its in government or in the nonprofit sector, serve the people who through no fault of their own find themselves on the margin of society, do something important for them. It will come back to you tenfold, as I think you already know.”

Before his address, Yaroslavsky was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Law degree from university president Andrew Benton.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 01 May 2014 15:33