David DeWalt is CEO of a cyber security company, but on Saturday, the University of Delaware alumnus was an open book as he spilled his secrets to success to his fellow Blue Hens: hard work, humility and honesty.
“Remember what is important in life and who is important in life,” he said.
DeWalt gave the address at UD's 166th commencement, held at Delaware Stadium, where the university conferred approximately 4,700 undergraduate degrees and 1,300 graduate degrees under a warm sun and bright blue sky.
A 1986 UD alumnus, DeWalt now runs FireEye, a California-based firm that provides cyber threat protection to businesses and governments worldwide. He said he would have never gotten where he is today without three numbers, numbers which represent his three greatest successes and failure — the first of which begins at UD.
When DeWalt was wrestling for the Blue Hens, his weight class set at 177 pounds.
“Because of this number, I think I learned every crack on every piece of asphalt from here to Rodney Hall and Christina Towers as I ran countless times back and forth to the Field House and the Carpenter Center,” he said.
He said he suffered enormous hardships while wrestling at the university, including breaking his collarbone, dislocating his shoulder, undergoing two knee surgeries, cauliflower ear and knocking out his front teeth. He won 101 out of 110 matches at UD, and his parents did not miss a single one.
“Don't ever forget what your loved ones have done for you,” he said.
After graduation, DeWalt moved out to Silicon Valley, Calif., where he interviewed with Tom Siebel for a position in direct marketing and telesales at Oracle and encountered the second number: 500.
Siebel told DeWalt he had to make 500 calls a week or he would be fired, so he rose to the challenge and became one of Oracle's top salesmen. DeWalt said that's when he learned a lesson in hard work.
He said the third number, 5958, represents one of his biggest failures that ended up turning into one of his greatest successes.
It was 2010 and DeWalt was CEO at computer security company McAfee. The company had just rolled out a version of the anti-virus software, version 5958, when he got a call that the software had wiped out computers at 1,672 companies in 16 minutes. McAfee's stock dropped tremendously and negative press swirled around the company, so DeWalt decided to take a lesson in humility and honesty. He owned up and publicly apologized for the company's mistake.
“It was just amazing to learn in a crisis what's important,” he said.
DeWalt told the graduates on Saturday to remember the three H's: hard work, humility and honesty as they move through life and to keep track of moments, or numbers, that change you as a person.
“I have a lot more numbers to achieve,” he said. “I hope you do, too.”
Saturday marked the last commencement presided over by UD President Patrick Harker, who is stepping down at the end of June to assume the role of president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. He has been a member of the Philadelphia Fed’s board of directors for three years.
“As we move on to new challenges, you — and all Blue Hens — will hold a special place in my heart,” he said Saturday.
But before Harker said goodbye to UD and the Class of 2015, he reminded the graduates of the moment when they first arrived on campus as freshman. He said the class never had a freshman convocation, Move-In Weekend was delayed and instead of getting out and exploring the campus, students were asked to hunker down in their dorms during their first few days thanks to a “little storm named Irene.”
He said Hurricane Irene taught the Blue Hens their first lesson at UD: how to be flexible, determined and open to opportunities as they come.
“Irene tested you,” he said. “Today, I can say you passed with flying colors.”
Harker mentioned several students in the Class of 2015 whose paths to graduation day were anything but straightforward. Some students overcame disabilities, while others overcame stereotypes and other challenges to follow their dreams.
“You are all here today because you said 'yes' to opportunity. Because when life didn't go as planned, you said, 'I'll adapt.' Because when you encountered an obstacle, you said, 'I'll persevere,'” he said.
Corey Kaufman of Long Island, N.Y., graduated Saturday with degrees in accounting and finance and said UD is going to miss Harker as president.
“I got to high-five him today, which was pretty sweet,” he said.
He said he has a job lined up at JP Morgan in Newark and is excited to be entering the “real world.” Still, he will miss UD, especially walking to class and seeing all of his friends.
“It's definitely upsetting,” Kaufman said. “We're all going our separate ways, but at least we will always have somewhere to stay when we visit.”
William Martin of Merion Station, Pa., said UD was the best four years of his life and, like Kaufman, he too will miss the familiar faces of fellow Blue Hens.
“Seeing all the smiles,” he said. “Everyone's so happy to be here.”
Martin studied marketing and said UD taught him “how to be an adult.” Looking back to freshman year, he said, he would only give himself one piece of advice.
“Get involved as soon as you get here,” he said. “Not everyone gets to go to college so take advantage of it.”
Stevani Weaver, of Newark, and Erika Romanowski, of Newport, both studied criminal justice and said Saturday they are going to miss “feeling at home” while at UD.
“Walking on The Green was my favorite part,” Weaver said.
For Alexa McKenney of West Chester, N.Y., the best part of UD is “the people.” McKenney studied communication, advertising and journalism and said out of all her years at UD, the memories she made during the last month of school will stick with her the most.
“Swimming in the fountain after the freshman bar crawl, that was the highlight,” she said.
She said she learned over the years to just go with the flow and, like Harker said, adapt to change.
“Don't stress so much,” she said. “Everything is going to work out the way it is supposed to.”
Andie Breslin of Bethlehem, Pa., Jenn Sparano of West Chester, N.Y., Taylor Soave of Holmdel, N.J., and Abby Finer of New York, N.Y., all met as members of the Alpha Xi Delta sorority and said they are going to miss “the little things” about UD like living close to friends, seeing people on Main Street.
“Knowing that there's always someone to get food with you,” said Breslin, who studied dietetics.
Sparano majored in cognitive science and psychology and will move on to graduate school at New York Medical College in the fall. She said the sense of community in Newark and at UD is unlike anywhere else.
“No matter how big this school is, you're still able to form close relationships with people,” she said.
Breslin said UD provided her with ample opportunities to get learn and get involved outside the classroom with groups like Best Buddies, while Soave and Sparano said they benefited from working with adults with disabilities through the Career and Life Studies Certificate program.
“Even without a degree we were able to make a difference,” Sparano said.
Finer, an English major, traveled to New Zealand during her time at UD and said the university's study abroad program is one of the best things about the school.
“I got to learn in parts of the world I would have never seen before,” she said. “I mean, we studied on mountains.”
The women said time flew by since freshman year, as cliché as it sounds, and they never thought graduation day would come so fast. Just last week they said they realized how little time they had left and decided to make a “UD Bucket List” of things to do before they walked into Delaware Stadium on Saturday.
“We were just trying to make the most of every day,” Sparano said. “It's bittersweet though, this weekend has been so much fun.”