“Each and every one of you has the capacity to achieve everything I have and then more. If I can do it, you can do it too – I am no different from you.”
This spring, I had the privilege of hosting my first REAP closing ceremony which celebrated the graduation of the Spring 2022 REAP/ULI cohort of 105 fellows from 23 states who join a dynamic network of 1,600 who have completed the commercial real estate (CRE) program over the past 24 years.
Gwyneth Jones Coté, president, Americas of ULI (Urban Land Institute), applauded the graduates for advancing their commitment to CRE and urged all to remain engaged and connected saying, “We need your voice. We want you and we need you in this fascinating industry.”
I was honored to introduce, in tandem with REAP Chair G. Lamont Blackstone, the keynote speaker, Trammell Crow Company’s Chief Operating Officer Adam Weers. Lamont commended Adam for reaching the C-Suite at Trammell Crow which he called “one of the most storied, most iconic developers on the North American landscape,” for being responsible for administering the firm’s Investment and Executive Committees, and for leading Trammell Crow’s development of the McMillan Health and Research Center in Washington, DC.
Adam opened his remarks by saying candidly that this was the first commencement speech he’d delivered. As taking to the pulpit has been a necessary byproduct of my career in business, community activism, and ministry, I have learned the importance of connecting to the audience by finding a common chord. Conversely, the surest way to distance yourself is to lecture in generalities. This hard-earned knowledge seems to have come instinctively to Adam as he repeatedly placed himself on an equal footing with the new graduates. The message resonated loudly and strongly throughout.
Proclaiming that he was an unlikely choice of keynoter, he added, with equal modesty, that he was an unlikely CRE executive. He cited the challenges he faced – and ultimately overcame – during the formative years of his past, saying that these typically ensure a far less illustrious present. He credited a series of “events, interventions, and blessings” with fostering his success.
“How did I get here?” and “What does it mean to you?” he asked, then listed the guiding principles that have shaped him:
Accept help from other people. One needs to maintain the proper perspective and not only acknowledge but willfully ACCEPT that everyone needs help along the way. Rather than feel self-conscious about taking assistance when offered, be grateful. Help gave Adam a second chance and a leadership opportunity. He is repaying the debt by helping others today.
Do the hard work. When assigned a couple of extremely challenging projects, Adam worked harder than ever and succeeded. “Hard work is an incredible, valuable commodity,” he said.
Stay true to your beliefs. “If you stay true to your beliefs, you will find a way to do your work in a way that is authentic to you. You will unlock your passion and drive,” he said. A commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion was foundational to his work, providing a platform, helping him to stand out, and giving him a vote. He added, “The things you believe in hold you accountable, so you must discover a way to find them.”
Adam urged the graduates to set a goal and to “set your sights high, don’t undersell yourself.” He quoted Benjamin E. Mays (1894- 1984), Baptist minister, civil rights leader/mentor, and longtime president of Morehouse College, who professed Black self-determination. Mays said, “Not failure, but low aim is sin.”
He quoted also from the Book of Hebrews, saying that at times one needs to do the work without a charted course. “Risk stepping out even when you don’t know where to go,” he said.
Adam encouraged all to:
Have an impact
Find your voice
His overall message resounded: “Each and every one of you has the capacity to achieve everything I have and then more. If I can do it, you can do it too – I am no different from you.”
Adam’s words left me breathless and hugely inspired – as they did all in attendance. The chat space was flooded with comments: “Thank you so much for your wisdom and transparency,” “I feel like I can do anything after hearing [this] speech,” “Goosebumps,” “Knocked it out of the park!” They echoed over and over with “Amazing!” “Powerful!” “Phenomenal!” Adam Weers accomplished in his first commencement address what few achieve in multiple efforts: he transformed. Our REAP/ULI Spring 2022 graduation ceremony may have been his first, but I know for sure, it will not be his last!
Manikka Bowman is the executive director of Project REAP