John Schnatter, founder and CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, encouraged Ball State University’s most recent graduates to think big and be willing to work hard to achieve those dreams.
“Your goals, if you’re not scared of them, aren’t big enough,” Schnatter told the estimated 2,900 graduates during his Spring Commencement address. “God puts your best where you are most afraid to go.”
Schnatter’s rise within the corporate world started with what has become a legendary story. After graduating from Ball State in 1983 with a major in business administration, Schnatter returned to his hometown of Jeffersonville, Indiana. In 1984, in an effort to save his father’s business, Mick’s Lounge, Schnatter sold his prized 1972 Camaro Z28 and used the proceeds to keep creditors at bay long enough to move his father’s business from debt-laden to solvent.
His father’s untimely death, less than two years after Schnatter graduated from Ball State, was the impetus for him to take greater risks.
“I was no longer scared about running the business anymore,” Schnatter said. So he and his family turned what had started as Papa John’s — a renovated broom closet with used restaurant equipment and pizzas delivered from the back of his father’s bar — into the company it is today: the third-largest pizza chain in the United States, with more than 4,600 stores in all 50 states and 34 countries, and more than 21,000 employees.
“We built a dining room, built a pizzeria, and we as a family built an empire,” Schnatter said. “The rest is history.”
His motto when he started guides him today, “Wake up. Be nice. Kick ass. Repeat. That’s not tough. Along the way, do things nice for the people you love, for your friends, for your family and for your community.”
Before his remarks, Schnatter received an honorary doctor of laws degree conferred by President Paul W. Ferguson, who said the act celebrated Schnatter’s “remarkable spirit of entrepreneurship.”
Ferguson returned to that idea when he addressed the graduates.
“My challenge to you students, who are now new alumni ... is for each of you to use your degree to its fullest. Do excellent work for your family and your friends. Do excellent work in your communities,” Ferguson said.
“I hope your education has inspired you to be able to take educated risks. Improve the world around you and improve the quality of life for those around you.”
"I hope your education has inspired you to be able to take educated risks. Improve the world around you and improve the quality of life for those around you."
— Paul W. Ferguson,
president, Ball State University
The day was movie-set perfect with a brilliant blue sky, 69 degrees and a light breeze – an idyllic backdrop for the graduates and their families to celebrate a milestone.
“I can’t believe it’s actually happening,” said Amanda Vegedes, from Coldwater, Ohio, whose nursing degree held special meaning for her. “My aunt passed away from breast cancer. I knew I wanted to be someone who could help families get through that.”
John Cox and his family drove from Lexington, Ohio, to celebrate daughter Margaret’s graduation. “It’s bittersweet, and it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” he said.
Margaret Cox, an accounting major, has a job in Indianapolis, and her dad was obviously proud of all she’d accomplished.
“She came here to play soccer, and she has had really good advisors,” he said, adding those professors helped Margaret network with influential people in the industry, resulting in a summer internship that has led to full-time employment.
“She had her pick of offers,” Cox said. “She has been very fortunate.”
Following the university-wide commencement, all seven of Ball State’s colleges held their own ceremonies for discipline-specific graduations.