Warden Yordy’s 3 keys to success

Warden Yordy speaks from podium.
ISCI Warden Keith Yordy

Idaho State Correctional Institution Warden Keith Yordy delivered the graduation address for Correctional Academy #52 on June 19 at the Peace Officers Standards Training Academy in Meridian.

He said during his 30 years with the IDOC he has “learned and seen many things that have led people to success.” 

In his remarks he discussed the three points he believes are most important. 

Here is a transcript of Warden Yordy’s speech:  

Good morning and thank you very much.

It’s an honor for me to be your speaker today and be one of the first to congratulate you. It’s such a privilege to stand before you on this awesome day.

This is a great day.  It’s a great day for the graduates, it’s a great day for their family and friends and it’s a great day for the department too.

We are very excited to have you on board because new staff are our lifeblood of our agency.  You bring energy, a renewed spirit and a fresh attitude that we so much need and appreciate.

A few weeks ago when I was asked to speak here today, I sat down and thought to myself, “I have to find just the right words to express, something that will have a positive impact on you folks, something inspiring, maybe even life changing.

However, I then remembered two things that told me you are probably not going to remember much of what I say today.  The first reason is my own correctional officer graduation.

You see, in 1986 I did the same thing some of you are doing right now.  You could be thinking, “I hope this guy is either entertaining or he’s brief.”

“Wow, is it getting close to lunch?  I’m hungry.”

“He started in 1986?  Dude, this guy’s old.  Were my parents even dating in 1986?”

The second reason is I have given speeches before.  A year ago, I was the guest speaker at what was called the “Wedge Academy”.  That was an academy we “wedged” between two others.  Hence the novel name, “Wedge Academy”.

Anyway, in the last 12 months, I have spoken with a number of these graduates and when I hear they graduated from this class, I would ask them what they thought of my speech.

Without fail, each of these officers gave me the  same blank and puzzled stare.  I could see it on their faces.  You spoke at our graduation?One young man, bless his heart, felt so compelled to remember something, anything that I may have said. 

After a moment of uncomfortable silence, he desperately blurted out.  “You had that funny story about screwing up!”

Really?  My ten minute speech of me baring my soul, trying to give personal insight, years of wisdom, inspiration and motivation and all he remembers is me screwing up? 

So, I said to him.  “Yes, but my story was to illustrate how we shouldn’t be defined by our mistakes.  That we can learn from them and grow.  How we can acquire new skills and tools that we can later use in the workplace and life.

He shook his head and said, “Yeah, sorry.  I don’t remember any of that.”

Seriously though, if there is only one thing you remember today, please let it be how honored I am to be a part of this celebration.  You may not remember me but I’ll never forget this day.

At these events, the other wardens and I generally take turns in being the guest speaker.  Although it can be a little nerve racking standing up here in front of an audience, probably something Officer Mitchell can appreciate now as well, it really is a privilege and blessing to do so.

So I come here today with nearly 30 years in the business.  In the three decades I have worked in corrections, I have learned and seen many things that have led people to success. 

I wish to offer three points that I feel are the most important.

Here’s my first point – DARE TO DREAM

One of my favorite people is actor Denzel Washington.  He recently said in a graduation speech, “Nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks”.

Prisons are a strange world of anti-social people incarcerated in an environment that most people in our society do not, nor able to understand.  All of us who decided to begin working in corrections took some risk.

To work in this environment takes courage and confidence.  Both of which you have already shown just in deciding to make this a career.

Don’t stop taking risks or accepting new challenges.  Get out of your comfort zone.  I wouldn’t have become a warden if I had stayed in my comfort zone.  Honestly, I can say I wouldn’t have become a deputy warden, captain, lieutenant or a sergeant either.

When I started as an officer, I did not see myself in any of these positions.  Those were positions other people obtained.  Point #2 – SEIZE THE OPPORTUNITY

When I started in 1986, we had 1500 incarcerated offenders in four prisons and today we have ten prisons and over 8000 inmates.  

Our department is filled with many, many opportunities.  Whether you elect to stay in a security role or move to programs, education or probation and parole, the opportunities that are ahead of you are limitless.

Be ready for those opportunities.  Realize that right now, today you are auditioning for these positions.  Your resume is being written and in fact, you have been writing your resume from the first day you started.

And you will continue to build those resumes in the coming months and years.

When opportunities arise, your body of work will speak for itself.  Supervisors will already know your work ethics, your integrity, attitude, people skills and abilities.

BE IN THE MOMENT!  Everyday, put your best foot forward.  Rock in the job you have today and tomorrow, offers of new challenges will be the result.  

Nelson Mandela once said, “There is no passion to be found playing small in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

It’s your life and it will be whatever you make of it.

And here’s my 3rd point and I think it is probably the most important.  EVERY DAY MATTERS.

Nearly 30 years of my career has passed.  Corrections has been a huge part of my life.  I met my wife at work, we got married and have raised two wonderful children.

The time will go by so quickly.  I know it is unbelievable looking at me but I recently turned 50.  My 20-year old daughter told me I don’t look 50.  When I thanked her for the kind comment, she smiled and added, “You look older than that”.

LIVE IN THE MOMENT.  So often, we get focused on what could happen tomorrow or what we hope will happen.

We get so busy and usually worried about the future.  We lose sight of what we have in the present.

Let laughter be a huge part of your day.  This is a difficult job and humor is what gets us through the tough parts.

Find balance in your life and don’t let this job define who you are.

In my speech a year ago, I tried to convey the growth I had seen in myself.  Where once, I didn’t see myself as a supervisor, manager, leader and definitely not a warden, over a period of time I’d learned new skills that helped me accomplish those feats.

I said it a year ago and today, it’s truer than ever.  If a dingy 21-year old correctional officer like myself can become a warden, than you can become anything if you DARE TO DREAM.

Before I leave I have two final requests. First, I want to wish each of you the best of luck and ask again if you only remember one thing, remember that it’s my honor to congratulate you on this great day.

And Secondly, as you go out next week and begin working at your assigned facility, when you meet each one of the wardens that are sitting in the back row, be sure to tell them that of all the wardens, I’m your favorite. 

Thank you so much and I wish you the best of luck.

Story published: 07/17/2015

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