Achievers Give Tips on Success to ’85 Graduates

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

It’s June, time for the familiar strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

Time for graduating high school seniors to kick up their heels and celebrate the completion of 12 years of schooling.

But graduation is also a rite of passage, the closing of one chapter of life and the opening of another, a time to contemplate one’s dreams for the future and begin the process of turning those dreams into reality.

With that in mind, The Times asked six successful Orange County people to share with the more than 22,000 members of the Orange County class of 1985 their thoughts on pursuing career success.


In particular, they were asked to recall any advice they received early in life that proved helpful in the achievement of their considerable success. Have they formulated any success principles of their own along the way? And, finally, what advice would they offer to 1985’s graduates?

Here then, is the advice of cartoonist Kevin Fagan, U.S. District Judge Alicemarie H. Stotler, author Barbara Conklin, film maker Greg MacGillivray, builder Philip J. Reilly and Jewel Plummer Cobb, president of California State University, Fullerton--to the class of 1985.

In 1978 Kevin Fagan was a Cal State Sacramento history major from Lake Forest who drew cartoons for the school paper. A year later, at the age of 22, he became the nation’s youngest syndicated cartoonist when his cartoon strip, “Drabble,” made its debut in 100 newspapers.

Now 28, Fagan lives and works out of his house on a hill above Lake Mission Viejo. “Drabble” is carried by about 250 newspapers and appears as a monthly feature in Seventeen magazine. Fagan’s third collection of cartoons, “Drabble . . . In the Fast Lane” (Fawcett), has just been published.


“My parents always gave me good advice in that they always encouraged me, telling me I could pretty much do what I wanted if I put my mind to it and tried. They never focused on things I couldn’t do; instead they focused on my cartooning and my sense of humor, and that was really helpful. Out of that I developed a good mental attitude toward things.

“Another thing which was helpful was that I think I made a wise decision in college: to be original. All the other artists were submitting political humor or sociological cartoons. I made the decision to stay away from that because everyone else was doing it. I decided to stick to straight humor, and every week I was pretty much guaranteed my space in the paper while the other guys were battling it out for space. My advice is, don’t be afraid to be original.

“I speak to students all the time and a couple of things I stress--they sound kind of corny--but one is to get an education. The reason for that, for cartoonists especially, is that I have to come up with ideas every day and the source of ideas is knowledge. The more things you know about, the more sources of ideas you have.

“Hard work is another old cliche that’s true. Two people might have a similar amount of talent but the one who is willing to work the hardest is probably the one who is going to go further with it. People are usually surprised to learn how much time I spend working on ‘Drabble.’ They say it looks like I probably do it in five or 10 minutes. That’s really a compliment because I have a drawing board in my home and it’s really kind of like an all-day job; I often work past midnight. The reason it’s a compliment is because if a comic strip looks spontaneous, that’s great. If it looks like you put a lot of work into it it’s not necessarily better.


“Another important quality to have, particularly in cartooning, is perseverance, and that’s because very few features are syndicated on their first submission. I was rejected by I don’t know how many different syndicates before I was accepted by United Feature Syndicate. I’m just glad I didn’t give up after my first rejection.

“Luck is also real important. I heard a real good definition of luck: ‘Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.’ That always stuck in my mind.”

After receiving her law degree from USC, Alicemarie H. Stotler in 1967 became the first woman to be hired as a full-time deputy district attorney in Orange County. In 1984, after first being appointed a Municipal Court judge and then a Superior Court judge in Orange County, Stotler was appointed to the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the nation’s busiest federal district court.

Last January, Judge Stotler , 43, was awarded the Orange County Bar Assn.'s highest honor for her work and achievements in advancing the administration of justice.


“Each time I try to formulate a general guideline which I have

followed in achieving whatever success your readers may perceive, I return to a variation on an old theme: hard work and dedication to responsibility are their own rewards.

“As for advice to 1985 high school graduates, I say: You must find and make your own path in this world; no one can do it for you. Once the way is apparent, tolerate no diversions.”

In the early 1960s Greg MacGillivray started taking 8 - millimeter movies of his Newport Harbor High School friends surfing. In 1966, he teamed up with the late Jim Freeman, a former Corona del Mar High School student. Over the years , the Laguna Beach-based MacGillivray Freeman Films produced the popular surf documentary “Five Summer Stories” and earned a reputation for artful aerial and action cinematography as evidenced in “Jonathon Livingston Seagull,” “The Towering Inferno” and other feature films.


MacGillivray, 39, recently was described by one film critic as the “reigning master of IMAX,” the large-format film process that is projected on mammoth , five-story high screens. MacGillivray’s fifth IMAX film, “Speed,” premiered last month at the Los Angeles IMAX theater in the Museum of Science and Industry in Exposition Park.

“I was greatly influenced by my parents, who have an unwavering faith that if you do something well, your work will be recognized and rewarded. This gave me encouragement to proceed with my film making in spite of the odds against ever being able to do film work as a job. (At the time, film production was not known to be a viable field, as Hollywood was nepotistic and the unions were closed to those on the outside. Actually, it’s little different today.)

“Mr. Robert Wentz, a drama instructor at Newport Harbor High School, was also inspirational, as he would encourage all his students to do what they enjoyed, not what they were expected to enjoy. Thus, I decided to continue investing all my time and all my earnings from odd jobs (newspaper routes, gardening, carpentry) in pursuit of my first commercial film, which I produced while at Newport Harbor High School and during my freshman year at UC Santa Barbara. Fortunately, this film was financially successful so that I could continue at least with a second film. “From these people I have shaped my belief that anything is possible, that if you do something well, you will succeed, that you should follow things you enjoy as these are usually the things you will do well. Of course, once you do succeed, you must never stop growing, pushing your limits further, stretching yourself into unknown and perhaps untried territory. By pursuing greater goals, your work will never become stale and ordinary.

“Lately, I have been speaking to film students and their instructors at the various film schools in Southern California. One discouraging trend today is that students are much more concerned with making money than with creating good, original films. This attitude is discouraging to both the instructors and me, as it is a dead-end street. Film work is so difficult, enervating and frustrating that one must have a passion for it to succeed. The craving to make movies must be your goal, not money. With passion, intelligence and education-experience, the work one accomplishes will be excellent, and it will be well rewarded.


“Have confidence in yourself and your work, ask questions and listen to those who wish to help you, pursue avenues of work that you enjoy--and you will be successful.”

Barbara Conklin worked for 16 years as a records supervisor at the Huntington Beach Police Department. In her spare time, the mother of six wrote confession stories for Modern Romance and True Confessions. In 1981 she wrote her first novel, a young adult romance called “P.S. I Love You.”

“P.S. I Love You,” is now in its 15th printing and Conklin, who retired in 1982 to devote full time to her writing, just completed her seventh young adult romance novel, which Bantam will release in September. The 58-year-old grandmother is now working on her first mainstream novel. “I just want to see if I can do it, that’s all,” she says.

“If one is to succeed in any field of endeavor, they themselves must make the choice of occupation or profession. To pursue a goal to please or satisfy a parent or someone other than one’s self, usually ends in failure.


“To be a success in any field, whether it be as an international best-selling author, doctor, lawyer or scientist, you must see yourself as if you are already the successful person you are striving to be.

“You must then be obsessed with a desire to achieve your goal. Nothing must stand in your way; you must rid yourself of all negative influences, whether they be from parents, friends or school.

“Form a mastermind alliance of people who have achieved success in your chosen field, read their novels, attend their lectures, enroll in their classes, try to emulate their success. Associate with persons

who believe in you and your goal, entice them to back your efforts to achieve your goal.


“Practice integrity and ethics in accomplishing your goal and do not let success spoil you. Give freely of your knowledge and ability to others seeking help from you, for to do so is a very rewarding experience.

“So believe in yourself, believe in your goals and go for it!”

In the late 1950s Santa Ana High School graduate Philip Reilly already had graduated with honors from USC’s School of Commerce and his schoolteacher wife, Valley, was helping to put him through USC law school. In 1963, Reilly was an attorney in Santa Ana when he became vice president of the newly formed Mission Viejo Co., which was planning a 10,000-acre planned community in south Orange County. Four years later, he was elected president and chief executive officer of the company .

Two years ago, the Reillys moved to Colorado where Reilly is overseeing the development of Highlands Ranch, his company’s 22,000-acre planned community 12 miles from Denver. Riley, 55, returns frequently to Orange County on business.


“I had a tall, slight, dark-haired, soft-spoken English teacher at Santa Ana High School--I’m sorry I can’t recall her name--who was an adviser to the Student Government Council of which I was a member. She stressed the importance of fairness--the importance of not taking the fullest advantage of your position over other people. I suppose she was stressing temperance in one’s life. I think she was right. Even in business, one is generally better off in the long run to use temperance--leave something: some pride, some opportunity, some self-respect for the other guy, even if you have the power to take it away. Certainly that’s true with family, friends and one’s business associates.

Reilly advises Orange County’s high school graduates to “have the self-confidence to say, ‘I don’t know the answer to that,’ and, ‘I didn’t understand that, could you explain that again?’ First, no one is expected to know everything, nor to be able to comprehend an explanation the first time it is proposed. As one grows in responsibility, new concepts come on stream every day. You’ll never get help to advance if you don’t evidence a receptiveness to that help. I’ve always been willing to say, ‘I need help’ and as a result, I’ve gotten plenty of it when I needed it most.”

In pursuing success, Reilly recommends setting goals that are “short and simple at first so you get used to meeting them. Stretch them out as you get more experience: Set longer-term goals. This practice simply defines a plan or an outline. Do not feel you must stick to one path or you’ll be thought of as ‘wishy-washy.’ Not true. Keep flexible, but always have a current direction in mind. Put another way, you can pick out a star to navigate by but you don’t have to expect never to change the course.”

Jewel Plummer Cobb, president of Cal State Fullerton, earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Talladega College in Alabama and a master’s and doctorate in cell physiology from New York University , where she began her lifelong study of melanoma cancer. Cobb, 61, served for nine years as professor of biology at Sarah Lawrence College in New York during the ‘60s. She later served as dean--the highest administrative level--at Connecticut College before becoming dean of Douglass College in New Jersey, the largest women’s college in America, in 1976.


When she was named president of Cal State Fullerton in 1981 , Cobb, the granddaughter of a former slave, became the first black woman to head a major public university in the western United States.

As for early advice, she said, “it came from my parents, but it had to do more with expectation--with what they expected from me--and that is that I would do the best job I could, put forth the maximum effort. If I ever came home with three A’s and one B the question would be, why did you get the B? That attitude pervaded throughout the whole time I was in school. We also had a very extensive, very large library associated with literature and books about Negroes--in those days they weren’t called blacks. My parents used to read a lot and I followed their example.

“I grew up in a strong, supportive neighborhood with a lot of role models, and we had some inspiring teachers in high school who were important to me. One, a biology teacher, was very good and the subject matter and the material she gave us in the classroom really excited me, and from that point on I decided to become a biologist.”

Her guiding philosophy throughout life, Cobb said, has been, “just to do the very best job that I can and to follow through as completely as I can.”


As for her advice to the Class of ’85, Cobb said, “It sounds very corny, but I do believe that they should make their goals as ambitious as possible and at the same time realize that a goal isn’t reached by just dreaming about it. It has to be acted on, and it requires setting a goal literally for each day.

“The transition from goals to reality is sometimes very difficult because it’s a step-by-step process and it doesn’t happen by magic. It requires a lot of hard work. Hard work is kind of scary as a generalized term. It really means a consistent pattern, a plan that requires step-by-step implementation. For example, if someone sets out to learn the computer, you have to start by reading Page One of the instruction book . . . . Sometimes we are our own enemies because we panic when we see something we don’t understand instead of breaking it down into small tasks that we can handle and that we can resolve.

“And there doesn’t have to be an intensity; it’s just that when one sets out to work on a project one ought to finish it. Then one can relax afterward. It’s a delightful feeling at the end of accomplishing something.”

Cobb’s final advice to the Class of 1985: “Always try to have a sense of humor. And a good night’s sleep doesn’t hurt, especially before an exam. And when you are in college try to identify with the brightest students in the class and don’t be afraid to ask them questions as well as, of course, your teachers.”