Former Cleveland Clinic CEO offers unexpected advice at commencement

Former Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove told Case Western Reserve University’s Class of 2018 Sunday about a topic he said he felt “eminently qualified to address.”

Leadership? No. Health care? No. Cardiac surgery? Yet again, no.

Instead, he focused on failure—namely, his own.

A collection of C’s in college. Rejection of 12 of his 13 applications to medical school. And messages during residency that he was the “least talented” in his group and absolutely should not try to specialize in cardiac surgery.

This list was not exactly the kind of resumé that CWRU’s 2,000-some graduates would expect from the person charged to advise them about the rest of their lives. After all, he took Cleveland Clinic to global prominence—and a No. 2 national ranking—while more than doubling patient visits during his 13 years as the hospital’s CEO and president.

This juxtaposition was exactly Cosgrove’s point: “Failure is rarely final.”

Instead, he advised, it is an opportunity to learn, grow and, ultimately, “achieve your maximum potential.”

Indeed, in addition to delivering the commencement address, Cosgrove also received an honorary degree from the university. Also receiving honorary degrees were François-Philippe Champagne (LAW ’94), Canada’s minister of international trade, and Anne S. Pruitt-Logan, an emerita trustee and former CWRU professor who has spent her career working to increase educational access and enhance teaching excellence.

In addition, President Barbara R. Snyder recognized alumni Larry Sears and Sally Zlotnick Sears with the President’s Award for Visionary Achievement. The two have dramatically enhanced students’ educational experiences through generous philanthropic support of the Sears Undergraduate Design Laboratory and the Larry Sears and Sally Zlotnick Sears think[box]. Larry also has contributed to the university as a member of the Board of Trustees since 2008 and an adjunct professor of electronic circuit design.

Emerita Professor of Psychology and alumna Jane Kessler, meanwhile, received the Frank and Dorothy Humel Hovorka Prize, which honors faculty whose teaching, research and service have helped the community, nation and world. Kessler not only founded a center on campus to serve children with developmental disabilities, but also authored a landmark text, Psychopathology of Childhood, used by legions of future child psychologists as part of their preparations for the profession.

To see highlights from yesterday, watch the YouTube video. To watch the full convocation ceremony, visit the university’s Facebook page.