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Pappajohns extoll service, philanthropy

Drake honorary degree recipients, philanthropists John and Mary Pappajohn, addressed a crowd of graduates with a message about finding meaningful work

Philanthropists Mary and John Pappajohn pose for a photo with Drake President David Maxwell.

Drake University recently presented honorary doctorates to philanthropists John and Mary Pappajohn for their extraordinary support of educational opportunities, entrepreneurial development and art initiatives, including the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines.

“The awarding of an honorary doctorate is the highest honor that a university can bestow, and Drake is proud indeed to grant the Pappajohns this acclaim for their extraordinary contributions to Drake University, to our community, the state and the nation,” Drake President David Maxwell said during the 130th Commencement Ceremony for Undergraduate Degree Recipients. Maxwell’s commencement address is available online.

John Pappajohn, a renowned venture capitalist who financed entrepreneurial centers at five Iowa universities and colleges including Drake, received an honorary Doctor of Business Administration at Drake’s Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony on May 14. His wife, Mary, a community leader and ardent supporter of the arts, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. View an online photo gallery of the ceremony.

“The question is: How did we get here?” John Pappajohn told undergraduates, noting that he and Mary are children of immigrants who came to America from Greece in a quest to provide a better life for their children and grandchildren.

“Both of our fathers were entrepreneurial and established businesses — my father a grocery story and Mary’s father a restaurant and bar — as soon as they were able to save a little money, which was accumulated from manual labor employment, including railroad section work and packing house labor.

“This provided their children the opportunity to attend college — Mary to the University of Minnesota and me to the University of Iowa. Even though none of our four parents had any schooling, they knew the value of education and it was their mantra that ‘we must get a college degree.'”

The best of times and the worst of times

John Pappajohn’s message for the graduates paid homage to Charles Dickens, author of “A Tale of Two Cities.”

“These are the best of times and the worst of times,” Pappajohn said. “Remember it is always the best of times or the worst of times. Should it really matter? No! What you do about it determines whether or not you become successful in whatever challenges that you take on.”

The biggest challenge, he said, is to find a job that you really love. “If you don’t,” he added, “you won’t be happy. If you are not happy, change! You must love your work to be successful.

“Opportunities today are the greatest that I have ever seen if you are willing to pay the price and remember it is always the best of times and the worst of times. Don’t complain — just go out and do whatever you have to do. Remember God gave each of us some special talent. Use it. Take advantage of it and you will become successful.

“A successful life must include service to others — to society and to your fellow man — that is how you will be judged. You must try to make a difference in the world. Learn to give, even when you don’t have much — it makes you feel good . . . You will find the more you give, the more you make!”

Learn to give when you don’t have much money

Mary Pappajohn expanded on her husband’s comments about the importance of philanthropy, saying, “I’m a firm believer that if you don’t learn to give when you don’t have much money, you’ll find it difficult to give when you do.

“John and I spend a great deal of time deciding where our investment will do the most good,” she added. “It’s a lot more fun to give away our own money while we’re living than to give someone else the pleasure of doing what we could have done. To the graduates, congratulations and may all your dreams come true.”

Archived copies of Drake’s 2011 Commencement Ceremonies are available online for streaming, downloading and podcasting. Apple Quicktime is required to view the archive stream. iTunes is required to download or podcast the files.