I was honored to be asked to deliver the keynote speech at the NFTE DC Region’s 2010 VIP Luncheon at George Washington University.  NFTE is the “Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.”   I’m on their advisory board for the DC region and I’ve also served as a judge for their business case competition finals for a few years when AOL was a major sponsor of the competition.

I was given a 12-minute slot to deliver the speech.  My primary focus was to thank the high school teachers (there were veteran NFTE teachers as well as the a new incoming class of teachers who are being trained this week).   Ironically, I also attended two high school reunions this month.  And, fortunately, a couple of our past teachers and coaches were at the reunion.   It was great to see them and thank them for the positive influence they made on our lives.

The focus of my remarks was about the importance of “giving back,” mentoring and community service.   I spoke of how I’ve been deeply influenced by two outstanding mentors, Ted Leonsis and Mario Morino (I’ve written about them many times in my blog postings).  But, in essence, these men were influenced by mentors in high school and college — then they went on build incredible careers — and they are now major philanthropists who have mentored and influenced many people.

I like to call it our “Pay It Forward” system.  Ted wrote eloquently in his book, “The Business of Happiness,” about being mentored by Father Durkin at Georgetown Univ.  Ted then mentored many of us at AOL — and, we, in turn are now mentoring many young men and women.  In effect, we’re passing it on from generation to generation.  It’s our way to pay back to those that taught and mentored us.

Mario is regarded our “Godfather of Philanthropy” for the greater DC region.  His wisdom as well as his Venture Philanthropy Partners (co-founded with Raul Fernandez and Mark Warner) has positively impacted the lives of tens of thousands of deserving youngsters in this region.

So, during yesterday’s speech, I focused on the impact that Ted and Mario had on my life — and how I’ve done my best to pass on their teachings and wisdom to the next generation — whether it’s the 25 plus youngsters I mentor through the many non-profits I work with or the the many wonderful undergrad and grad students I teach / advise at Georgetown University.

I thought I connected with the audience during the speech since I saw many nodding heads and smiles.  But, I know I really connected after I spoke with 15 – 20 of the guests at the end of the luncheon.  I spoke with students, teachers, sponsors, school administrators, board members, etc.   I walked out of there with a huge smile on my face —  primarily because we were able to thank the teachers for their inspiring work.  But, it was also great to make the connection with the many supporters of NFTE that know in our hearts that we’re helping make the difference in the lives of many deserving young men and women.  We are in effect helping create a level playing field.

I love the quote that one of my favorite writers, Thomas Friedman, stated about NFTE, “The President should vow to bring the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, or NFTE, to every low-income neighborhood in America.”   We are making a difference — and thanks to everyone that is associated with NFTE in helping make this happen.