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“Remember the How”—Inspiration from 2024 College Commencement


At an event known for pomp and circumstance, before a rapt audience and against a backdrop of faculty decked in black robes and doctoral regalia, Elisabeth (Skowronnek) Brinton (C’89) wore running shoes and an easy smile. Stepping out from behind the podium, the 2024 College Commencement Speaker announced, “The theme I want to talk about today is courage.”

Since arriving as a student in Elsah with all of her earthly belongings in tow, having recently lost her only parent, Brinton has been a model of courage. She was Principia’s first Truman Scholar, a member of the national champion cross-country team, and a Lincoln Academy student laureate. In the words of College President Dr. Daniel Norton, “Her triple-major in English, history, and chemistry enabled her to build a 360-degree understanding of the world. In other words, the whole-person approach.”

Now 35 years later, Brinton is an accomplished entrepreneur who founded and ran two dozen companies, a global leader in corporate sustainability who led Shell’s and Microsoft’s multinational teams, an avid runner, and a competitive equestrian show-jumper. Her list of accomplishments is long, distinguished, and impressive, but as she stood before Principia’s 2024 graduates, she defined success as “not about the ‘what,’ but the ‘how’.” 

“As you think about the design of the life you are building, think about the ‘how’. How do you show up? Do you have courage to speak truth to power? Do you have the courage to wrestle with complex topics that others think are impossible? Do you have the courage to be alone and not lonely? To be in community and be independent? To be free, to be respected and kind? ...Your differentiation is about the ‘how’.”

This approach makes one courageous, she went on, because it demands we live truest to our own hearts. “Courage comes from the Latin word, ‘core,’ meaning the heart,” Brinton explained. “Today more than ever, in these complex times, we need courage from the heart.” That means courage to stand out from the crowd, courage to pursue one’s own path, courage to put aside ‘shoulds’.” 

As Brinton wrapped up, she emphasized a quiet, constant courage: “What is building a life? It is a thousand million little decisions over and over again. So that is the opportunity—regardless of what headwinds face you—to make the best decisions every day, to use your time and your talent that is closest to your heart. That is true courage. …Remember the how, remember courage, and that it comes from the heart.”

Watch the full 2024 Commencement ceremony via Principia College’s YouTube channel.