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Busi­nessman Don Tocco spoke to Hillsdale College stu­dents on April 11 con­cerning dis­cov­ering talents and how to use them. Col­legian Archives

In order to motivate stu­dents and give them some useful steps to dis­cover their “God-given talents,” busi­nessman and founder of D.L. Tocco & Asso­ciates, Inc., Donald “Don” Tocco spoke at Hillsdale College on Thursday, April 11.

“Many persons do not dis­cover what those talents are until later in life by virtue of some accident or external hap­pen­stance,” Tocco said. “Our ultimate purpose and our God-given talents are inex­tri­cably linked together and the sooner we know what they are, the sooner we can accel­erate our pro­duc­tivity in life and service to others.”

Tocco is greatly rec­og­nized across campus as a gen­erous donor for campus activ­ities and groups. Vis­iting soror­ities, playing baseball with the college’s team, and speaking with other stu­dents involved across a spectrum of interests, Tocco believes extracur­ricular activ­ities con­tribute to the college’s liberal arts tra­dition.

“The purpose of my donating money to Hillsdale College is to support not only the great mission of the school but also the spe­cific activ­ities of your lead­ership groups, including funding for sports pro­grams at dif­ferent times over these many years,” Tocco said. “You may find after grad­u­ation that your involvement in extracur­ricular activ­ities beyond aca­d­emics was every bit as valuable as your core cur­riculum, phi­losophy, and great books read and studied. These are the reasons I offer mon­etary support.”

Tocco has pre­vi­ously donated funds depending on the number of members of campus clubs who attend his annual lecture, but this year, he tried a dif­ferent means to under­stand campus groups’ core values and objec­tives. He asked each campus group in atten­dance to write a letter of intent explaining what their group stands for, what it accom­plishes, and for what pur­poses they would use addi­tional funding.

“I added this requirement so I could better under­stand what the many dif­ferent groups on campus are trying to accom­plish while en route to their under­graduate degree,” Tocco said in an email.

Senior Kyle Huitt, who intro­duced Tocco at the lecture, has expe­ri­enced the gen­erosity of Tocco and developed a per­sonal as well as working rela­tionship with the busi­nessman by man­aging Tocco’s per­sonal website.

“I think people often miss how he takes ideas orig­i­nally artic­u­lated by some of the greatest thinkers we study at Hillsdale — the notion of a best self, the idea of virtues, a focus on a con­tem­plative life, etc. — and com­mu­ni­cates them in a rad­i­cally acces­sible way for people who might not quite be used to reading Aris­totle and ethical phi­losophy for them­selves,” Huitt said. “As a phi­losophy nerd, I’ve respected that and ben­e­fited from it. Mr. Tocco shows that the higher things can be made very prac­tical and are nec­essary for a good life.”

Tocco believes these ideas to be important in com­mu­ni­cating to his younger audience. These include mem­o­rable phrases that stu­dents repeated with Tocco to rein­force his message, including “burning desire,” “D-eter­mi­nation,” and “action, action, action!”

Tocco’s speeches always address three spe­cific ideas he believes are fun­da­mental “prin­ciples nec­essary for a pro­ductive and extra­or­dinary life.” These ideas include the Greek word “arête,” referring to excel­lence in char­acter, being involved in gov­ernment as young polit­i­cally-mindful indi­viduals, and finding mentors who will cul­tivate good qual­ities in them­selves.

Stu­dents appre­ciate Tocco’s annual speeches and his gen­erous con­tri­bution to the well-being of the student body and activ­ities across campus, while being so pas­sionate about the college and its mission.

“We always hear from pro­fessors and faculty that our Hillsdale edu­cation will serve us well in the ‘real world,’ but it is always very special to have someone outside of Hillsdale rec­ognize the work that we do here and explain how we will be able to apply our Hillsdale edu­cation to our futures,” sophomore Kate Ford said. “Mr. Tocco is a gen­erous, per­sonable man. His earnestness and resilience are inspiring qual­ities, and I truly enjoy talking to him when he comes to campus.”

Tocco said he cares about the student body and is hoping to fre­quent campus more often as he becomes involved in a new business devel­opment in Litch­field County, near the college’s campus.

As stu­dents dis­cover and master what he calls, “the art of arête” and con­tinue to pursue both learning and schol­arship at Hillsdale, Tocco hopes stu­dents hold on to the truths he shares during his visits.

“As a Hillsdale College student, if you can manage to leave that great insti­tution having accom­plished aca­demic excel­lence, build upon the force of your char­acter; know your purpose,” Tocco said, “Express your burning desire; write down your goals and objec­tives; demon­strate per­sis­tence, deter­mi­nation, and con­viction; and act in a bold and con­fident manner — there is nothing you cannot achieve.”