Inspiring Message for Accounting Grads

Billy Price, UW 2002, delivering the 2023 commencement speech for the Masters of Science in Taxation and the Masters of Professional Accounting

At the June 9th, 2023 Graduation Celebration for MST and MPAcc, we were honored to have Billy Price, founder of BILLY Footwear, give the commencement address to our 71 graduates and their friends of family. Billy’s personal story is a hard one to hear but one that reminds us that our greatest obstacles can often be our greatest teachers, and that we are only limited by ourselves–our attitudes, our choices and our actions.

On the morning of October 9, 1996, I was found on the walkway leading to the front door of the Fraternity that I had just joined. I remember I was lying on my back, unable to move, looking up at the sky when someone from our house spotted me.  I remember I was screaming for help.  And I remember being very confused as to why I was not in my bed.

After someone called 911, I soon found myself in an ambulance being rushed to Harborview Medical Center.  The next place I found myself was on an operating table, with one of those big lights shining down, and a bunch of hospital personnel all working around me.  But I was at a total loss as to why I was there.  I had no idea what was going on, nor an understanding of what had occurred.  To me, it felt like I was in a dream that I was not waking up from. But this was no dream.  It was real.

Billy had fallen headfirst from a 3-story window at his fraternity, breaking his neck and back, and causing a spinal cord injury that would leave him paralyzed from the chest down.

And in that moment, my world came crumbling down. It imploded. Because all I could think about was the stuff I used to be able to do: soccer, baseball, skiing, hiking, mountain biking, building things with my hands… now all taken away.

Instead of being able to enjoy what I knew and get to know the new college friends I had just met, and dig into the classes of which I had just enrolled, I had to focus on something completely different. Which was trying to piece back together my world that felt shattered.

Our limit is set by us and only us.  We set our limits for ourselves.  And I’m telling you, your limit is more than you can imagine.  You each are capable of so much.  It takes a choice.  And it takes action.

He spent five and a half months in the hospital consumed by dark thoughts, but eventually, through the support of family and friends, he found his way back to a new state of being where life was worth living.

My demons of doubt still remained, but for me, it now felt like I had the ability to keep them at bay with an attitude of gratitude. I felt like I had direction — a vector — where it was up to me to determine the magnitude of purpose.

Years later, after a career at the Federal Aviation Administration, he mentioned to a friend that since his accident he had relearned to do nearly everything he used to be able to do, but he could still not put his own shoes on without assistance.

And I said I bet that if there was a shoe that had a zipper that went along the outside and then around the toe where the whole upper could flip open, I could drop my foot in unobstructed, zip the shoe up with my limited hand function, and then take back that independence.  Well, he was intrigued, and we took action.  We made a drawing, then worked with a factory to make a prototype, and then when I was finally able to try it out, it worked exactly as we had hoped.

I was 36 at that time.  I broke my neck at 18, so literally half a lifetime later I was putting my shoes on again independently.  The moment was so special, we knew we had to share it.  Thus began our shoe side hustle and BILLY Footwear was born.

Three years later, I and my business partner (fellow Husky by the way) were able to step away from our day jobs and do shoes full time.

Our shoes are now in Nordstrom, Zappos, QVC, Von Mar, Scheels, Target, Shoe Sensation, DSW and Kohl’s.  We have independent retail partners throughout the US, Canada, Australia, and Europe.  Plus, we have our own booming e-commerce site.

It started with one pair of shoes for myself.  Last summer, we sold our millionth pair.  And the pace is only accelerating.

The opposite of success is not failure.  The opposite of success is quitting. Stay in the game.  Be patient.  Add value where you can.  And make the most of each day.

Concluding Billy’s speech, the Dean of the Foster School, Frank Hodge said this,

We have banners in the Foster School that state “Foster Imagination” and “Foster doing the Impossible.” We encourage this mindset in the pursuit of bettering humanity through business. You [Billy] are a shining example of someone who brings this mindset to life in an impactful and very meaningful way. Thank you.

Billy’s story and experience of doing the impossible was an invaluable gift to the class of 2023, Masters of Accounting students at the Foster School of Business.

Explore more about Foster’s Masters of Accounting programs.