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Ingredients for Life Speech by Garden Fresh Founder Jack Aronson

BoysGirls_trait_01Ingredients for Life Speech Jacks Adby Garden Fresh Founder Jack Aronson

(Jack Aronson, Guest View/Commencement Speech at Oakland Community College May 21, 2016)

Auburn Hills, MI –

Tomatoes, artichoke hearts, garlic, onions, bell peppers, jalapeños, cilantro, vinegar, lime juice and salt.

Sounds good – I know – but you’ve got to wonder why I begin this commencement address with what sounds like a grocery list. The answer’s an easy one – those are the ingredients to the Artichoke Garlic Salsa that started it all for Garden Fresh Gourmet, the company my wife NewWay_Jazz_TuesdaysAnnette and I founded in 1998. Back then, we made our first batches of the stuff in five-gallon buckets in the kitchen of our humble little restaurant in Ferndale. Fast forward nearly 20 years, and Garden Fresh has morphed into America’s #1 refrigerated salsa brand, now owned by the Campbell Soup Company after our sale last year.

What a blessing Garden Fresh has been, and what opportunities the company has provided for my family, loyal employees and me. Yet all our success – all our good fortune – can be traced back to what? – the right ingredients. I’m here to tell you that the right ingredients are critical, not just for delicious salsa, but also for a meaningful, productive, joyful life.

The ingredients for happiness – that’s what I want to talk about today.

But first . . . CONGRATULATIONS graduates . . . and greetings to you, your families, the Board of Trustees, faculty, administrators, staff and honored guests. Chancellor Meyer, my MBREW draft onethanks for the warm welcome. I can’t possibly explain how incredibly privileged I feel to be speaking, particularly given how special THIS commencement is in OCC’s history. Oakland Community College is celebrating its 50th anniversary – which is fantastic. Over five decades, OCC has served more than a million students – some of whom I’ve had the honor to know, work with, be related to – and OCC graduates, like you, have been and remain an essential part of Detroit’s renaissance, its revitalization. No doubt about it, we all owe the college a debt of gratitude, and let me say, here’s to OCC’s continued growth and success over the next 50 years!

Now, about those ingredients.

Take it from someone who’s had a breadth of life experiences. I’ve worked countless hours at jobs I’ve hated . . . and guided a company I absolutely love; I’ve endured financial difficulties . . . and enjoyed creature comforts; and I’ve interacted over my many years in business – and in life – with so many different people, some of them not too terrific . . . and others just wonderful. Through it all, I think I’ve hit upon that which is truly important, that which makes Chamber_AD2_rainbowrunlife worth living, that which will make you content. Call them the three ingredients for happiness – at least according to Jack Aronson: (1) choose your friends and colleagues wisely, (2) find your purpose, and (3) give back, always give back.

* * *

Degrees in hand – hot off the presses – you’re all poised to get out there in the world and make some noise, be it in the workplace or by continuing your education. I applaud you for that – all of us here do. But please, PLEASE understand . . . there’s so much more to this chapter of your lives than ambition and smarts. You can never, EVER, underestimate the importance of the company you keep.

By all accounts, I hit a home run with Garden Fresh. Have I worked hard? Yes. Was I determined – laser focused – from the beginning? Definitely. Am I the beneficiary of some good luck? Sure. But my successes at Garden Fresh also have every bit to do with the extraordinary folks that I’ve surrounded myself with. From the professionals I’ve relied upon garden01_Justin Gruenberg_april may 2016for advice and counsel, to the faithful, trustworthy, reliable women and men that have made the operation at Garden Fresh the envy of the industry, to Annette, my beautiful wife and partner for 28 years . . . I’ve chosen wisely.

I’ve made a concerted effort to work with, hire – marry – people that have lifted me up, people that have pushed me to be a better man, and hopefully – HOPEFULLY – I’ve returned the favor. You – graduates – should see to it that you do the same. Character counts – yours and that of the people you choose to associate with. Be your best selves, bring your best selves to whatever it is that you do, and surround yourselves with individuals that reflect that priority. When it comes to your relationships – the company you keep – make prudent choices, informed choices, the right choices.

* * *


It’s amongst the defining characteristics of your generation and ingredient number two. Purpose is the very reason why YOU, the so-called millennials, are changing the face of society as we know it. Business too. Here’s a tidbit that’s music to my ears: millennials as a demographic are undeniably focused on the greater good. Of course, money is important and they – YOU – enjoy making it, but if anything I’ve read and observed about millennials is to be believed, you long to be part of something bigger than yourselves, both on the job and in your personal lives. NOTHING gives me more hope than this.

So ask yourselves . . . what’s your purpose?

That – graduates – is such a heavy question, one that may require some real soul-searching and should not be answered without serious thought. Your purpose is highly personal, and obviously unique to you and your set of values. Whatever it may be, it’s your purpose that energizes you, gets you up in the morning raring to go, and is the source of long-term GT ad 05happiness. I promise you this: material wealth is no substitute for the peace of mind and gratification that only purpose can bestow. I implore you all – find yours.

* * *

In my view, it’s the third ingredient that is the most meaningful and the one nearest and dearest to my heart. It also goes hand in hand with purpose . . . giving back. To you graduates and to your families, friends and everyone else assembled here today I say, GIVE BACK. God knows we desperately need that here in Detroit.

For my part, I mentor young entrepreneurs, volunteer with the Salvation Army, and work with various literacy programs in and around this great city, including Beyond Basics, which helps students raise their reading levels. This is a cause that’s EXTREMELY important to me. You may want to get involved as well.

Detroit has incredibly low literacy rates. Our education system is graduating high school royal_servicesseniors reading at a seventh-grade level. It gets worse . . . 96% of eight graders are not proficient readers, which is shameful. By allowing this to persist, we’re failing these students and positioning them for failure as they enter adulthood. The startling truth is that if we don’t reverse this trend of semi-literacy, we’ll lose a generation of kids – one that you’re not so far removed from. And by extension, our city and its economy will continue to suffer immeasurably. Folks, we’re faced with a real problem.

But there’s good news too. Here you sit, graduates of OCC. You’ve made it. You’ve achieved. And you can give back. You SHOULD give back. Pay it forward. Ladies and gentlemen, communities thrive when society is supportive and the populous boosts the opportunities of the less fortunate. So do your part. Whether it’s promoting literacy, mentoring a child, helping the elderly, the homeless, whatever your chosen cause, GIVE BACK.

Trust me when I tell you that there’s no better feeling than helping others to reach their potential. As newly minted graduates of OCC, you’re perfectly positioned to do just that.ctechad

* * *

Tomatoes, artichoke hearts, garlic, onions, bell peppers, jalapeños, cilantro, vinegar, lime juice and salt.

Choosing your friends and colleagues wisely, finding your purpose, giving back.

Here’s your takeaway: whether making Artichoke Garlic Salsa or laying the foundation for happiness, it’s the proper ingredients that make all the difference in the world.

Class of 2016, I congratulate you.


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