Woltosz shares lessons with Auburn University’s December 2018 graduating class

Published: December 15, 2018
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Nearly 50 years after earning his degree from Auburn University, Walt Woltosz returned to The Plains Dec. 15 to deliver a commencement address to the university’s newest graduates. Woltosz shared some of the lessons he’s learned – the ones he believes helped shaped his life – since earning his degree in aerospace engineering in 1969.

“The first lesson was to accept and learn from failure,” he said. “You’re going to fail now and then. We all do. But don’t let the fear of failure keep you from pursuing your dreams.”

Failures are learning opportunities, said Woltosz, who is a co-founder of Words+ Inc. and Simulations Plus.

“Besides learning, sometimes failures lead to redirection – to do something else in which you can succeed,” he said. “Along with learning how to improve, redirection can also be a beneficial result of failure.”

The second lesson Woltosz left with the graduates was about decisions.

“Decisions made by others can radically alter our life’s trajectory,” he said.

He referenced numerous examples from his own life, starting with him being stationed at an Air Force base in western Oklahoma – a decision someone else made for him. If not for that decision, he would never have come to Auburn. When asked where he wanted to go to college, he said Auburn University because another airman from his squadron had gone there the year prior.

A few years later, his wife’s mother was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and his wife, Ginger, asked him if there was anything he could do to help her communicate using a personal computer. He eventually developed a method that worked, and it has helped thousands of people around the world, including Stephen Hawking.

“People credit me for helping Stephen Hawking, but it was Ginger’s perseverance and idea to try using a personal computer to help her mom communicate,” Woltosz said. “Make the most of the opportunities life presents you and it will work out.”

The third and final lesson Woltosz shared with the students was that he had a debt to repay when he left Auburn, and they do, too. And he’s not talking about student loans.

“The true cost of my education at Auburn was way more than what I paid. So was yours. We all benefitted from the gifts of many others, large and small, who realized that an institution like Auburn University can only achieve the level of excellence that it has with the support of charitable contributions,” he explained.

Woltosz said that while he will never be able to personally thank the donors who helped him, he can pay it forward by supporting today’s students and future students. He encouraged the graduates to do the same.

“Always remember that whatever you do, wherever you go, you will represent Auburn University,” he said. “Be a good ambassador for this institution by doing your best at whatever you do, by being a good and conscientious citizen, and by remembering that you will always be a part of the Auburn Family.”

Woltosz is a member of Auburn’s 1856 Society, Petrie Society and Athletics Oaks Society, as well as the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s Keystone Society, Ginn Society and Engineering Eagles Society. He currently serves on the Auburn University Foundation Board of Directors, the Auburn University Real Estate Foundation Board of Directors, the Auburn University Research Advisory Board and chairs the Auburn Alumni Engineering Council, and he is a life member of the Auburn Alumni Association. Woltosz is married to Ginger Woltosz, who was a cofounder of both Words+ Inc. and Simulations Plus Inc., and is secretary-treasurer of Simulations Plus, a public company listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 29,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.