Words of Wisdom from Steve Pemberton – CTU’s 2016 Commencement Speaker

CTU 2016 Graduation Speaker Steve PembertonFor 2016 CTU commencement speaker Steve Pemberton, success was never supposed to happen. In his memoir, A Chance in the World, Pemberton writes about his journey from an orphan to someone who has achieved his version of the American Dream. Overcoming physical and emotional obstacles, Pemberton ultimately obtained success in both his personal and professional life. In Pemberton’s own words: “I made a conscious choice that I would have a different life and a different path.”1

Ahead of Colorado Technical University’s July graduation ceremonies in Denver, here are some words of wisdom from Steve Pemberton – about success, leadership, diversity, education and more.

On Leadership and Success

“Being a leader is to be bold.” – Steve Pemberton

As Vice-President, Diversity and Inclusion and Global Chief Diversity Officer for Walgreens, Steve Pemberton knows about leadership. In an interview with CTU, Pemberton described how to be a good leader: “Leadership is service,” he said. “It’s creating the best environment to be successful – [it’s] not about you.”

As someone with both a beautiful family and a thriving career, Pemberton has achieved his success by nearly any measure. When asked for his advice on achieving goals, Pemberton noted that holding yourself back can be a major issue. “The reason we don’t pursue our dreams is we’re afraid of failure,” Pemberton said.

“Most times we do have a vision of the way we want things to go. What gets in our way is fear. Every day, ask yourself this question ‘what dream would I pursue if I couldn’t fail’?” he continued.

Additionally, Pemberton believes that success necessitates fighting back against reductive labels that others apply to you. “In my opinion, most successful people became successful because they rejected the labels that someone tried to impose upon them,” he said.

Labels are an issue that Pemberton has dealt with throughout his life; having been labeled as an orphan, a victim and someone who couldn’t succeed. Pemberton describes conquering these labels by making his own for himself: “’Powerful’, ‘inspiring’, ‘tough.’ My labels beat their labels.”

On Diversity

Prior to his current role with Walgreens, Pemberton served as Divisional Vice-President, Chief Diversity Officer for Walgreens and Chief Diversity Officer of Monster Worldwide. Pemberton has dedicated his career to building diversity not just for the companies for which he’s worked, but - he hopes - for corporate America as a whole.

“The work that we’re doing in the time in which we’re doing it is critical. Future generations are going to build upon us,” Pemberton said.

He continued: “…the next generation ought to be able to look at our generation and say they were the ones who took on the very significant challenge of mainstreaming and incorporating diversity into organizational systems and processes. That ultimately is going to be our measure.”

In a way, Pemberton’s thoughts on both diversity and his general tips for success can be summed up in one of his own sentences: “Change happens because you fight for it.”2

On Education

Ahead of his 2016 commencement speech, Pemberton reflected on the major impact that education had in his life in particular: “My ultimate response to everything I dealt with was education. It ultimately allowed me to overcome my hurdles.”

The theme of education echoes throughout Pemberton’s memoir, A Chance in the World. Education allowed Pemberton a way to write his own story, rather than stick with the one given to him by others.

We look forward to hearing more from Pemberton at CTU’s upcoming graduation ceremonies in Denver on July 30th. If you aren’t able to attend in person, you can watch the live stream by going to CTU’s Facebook page.

1 Pinckney, T. (2011, October 31). Walgreens VP: A personal story of childhood abuse. Retrieved July 21, 2016, from
2 Meadows, A. J. (n.d.). Diversity Dialogue with Walgreens CDO Steve Pemberon. Retrieved January 10, 2016, from