Few people get the opportunity to summit some of the world’s highest mountain peaks, but those who do learn invaluable lessons and gain a greater perspective on the world around them. Their enhanced view becomes an irreplaceable source of inspiration and knowledge for other climbers who have just begun.
Standing at the summit of experience and lifelong service, Richard P. Nielsen, Founding President and CEO of Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions (RMU) and his wife, RMU’s First Lady, Jodi Nielsen, delivered a keynote speech to the graduates of RMU’s December 2022 commencement ceremony–gifted professionals looking to begin their climb to success. In light of President Nielsen’s recent announcement to step down as RMU’s Founding President/CEO, this was his final commencement ceremony as RMU’s President and CEO. The Nielsens shared with graduates four principals they learned from their experiences summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro in East Africa on eight separate occasions.
“Mountains like Kilimanjaro are often used as a metaphor for life,” Jodi Nielsen said. “By getting to the top of the mountain and then descending safely back down, you have accomplished something which many people will never do. Kilimanjaro has taught us both great lessons.”
Attitude Determines Altitude
The Nielsens explained how, like Kilimanjaro, success in life is a rigorous journey that requires more than just passive existence and unelevated expectations. “Mt. Kilimanjaro is not for the faint of heart and such is life as well,” they said. “What will carry you forward and guarantee success more than your physical strength is your positive momentum, what is in your heart and mind–an optimistic and determined attitude. Your attitude determines your altitude!”
Beware of Distractions and False Securities
“Just shy of 18,000 feet on Kilimanjaro there is a hole in the mountain called Hans Meyer cave. At that altitude, it is very cold and the cave will lure you inside with the comfort it offers being 15 degrees warmer. Climbers are encouraged to stay upright and keep moving in place while in the cave. Sitting or lying down is the best way to ensure you will not proceed to the summit,” Jodi Nielsen said.
“Like Hans Meyer cave, there will be things on the climbs to your summits that may try to draw you away into distraction or a false sense of security,” President Nielsen said. “ You cannot stop in the middle of the climb. If you stop and take a rest in the middle of that journey–or get distracted by the lure of comfort–the chances that you will finish are greatly reduced.” He encouraged graduates to press forward until their goals have been reached.
The Power of Pole, Pole
The couple shared how mountain guides on Kilimanjaro remind climbers to go “pole, pole,” which in Swahili means “slowly, slowly.” Due to the body’s constant need for adjustment while ascending to higher altitudes, rapid climbing is detrimental and can be life threatening. “There is a time and a place for moving quickly,” Jodi Nielsen said. “In climbing life’s mountains, it is important to slowly and intentionally put one foot in front of the other.”
With many in the world following the streamline of society where dismissing daring dreams is the norm, Jodi Nielsen encouraged graduates to adopt Ralph Waldo Emerson’s philosophy: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
“Don’t be afraid to go after your dreams, daring greatly.” Jodi Nielsen said.
“Disregard barriers as the flimsy constructs they are,” President Nielsen said. He quoted the former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who said, “The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them.”
President Nielsen emphasized the importance of collaboration and teamwork, stating “Together, our capacity is increased beyond what we can do alone, and better ensures our dreams can be realized.”
The Nielsens left the graduates with a charge to apply the knowledge and skills they have gained in their fields to make positive differences. “Go forth to advance healthcare and, in your own unique way, affect changes in the world to make it a better place.”
Watch the December 2022 commencement ceremony in its entirety here.