Commencements can be bittersweet moments–a celebration of accomplishments, while simultaneously a doorway into a new unknown. The following are words of wisdom from graduation festivities around the United States, as the Class of 2013 enters the world with new knowledge and greater experience. And, for posterity, I added my two cents.
- President Barak Obama, Morehouse University: “Just as Morehouse has taught you to expect more of yourselves, inspire those who look up to you to expect more of themselves…I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is that there is no longer any room for excuses…”
- His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tulane University: “I’ve had no modern education, so my knowledge compared to yours amounts to zero, but I have observed that many of the problems we face today are of our own creation. Because we created them, we must also have the ability to reduce or overcome them. You young people are educated, fresh and bright; you have the future in front of you. My generation belongs to the twentieth century and our century is over, we are almost ready to say goodbye. The twentieth century saw many great achievements, but it was also an era of bloodshed. The world did not become a better place as a result of that violence. Those of you who are less than 30 years old, who truly belong to the twenty-first century, please think on a more global level. Try to create a more peaceful, more compassionate world by taking into account the welfare of others.”
- President Bill Clinton, Howard University: “It turns out that creative cooperation works better than constant conflict, and we forget that at our peril. You can’t share the future unless you share the responsibility for building it.”
- Wil Haygood, Miami University of Ohio: “Life is about second chances, but only if you ask. . . . And know this: When someone gives you a second chance, you give grace to their life. You give them a chance to do something unique, something bigger than themselves, something quite special.”
- Oprah Winfrey, Harvard University: “It doesn’t matter how far you might rise, at some point you are bound to stumble. If you are constantly doing what we do, raising the bar, if you are constantly pushing yourself higher, the law of average predicts that you will at some point fall. When you do, remember this: there is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction. When you are down there in the hole, it looks like failure. When you are down in the hole, it’s really okay to feel bad for a little while. Give yourself time to mourn what you think you may have lost, but then learn from every mistake. Every encounter and particularly your mistakes are there to teach you and force you to be more of who you are.”
- Corey Booker, Yale University: “Real courage is holding onto that still voice in your head that says ‘I must keep going. It’s that voice that tells you that nothing is a failure if it’s not final.”
- Cal Ripken, Jr, University of Maryland: “Attitude is not like talent.”It’s a choice.”
- Kerry Washington, George Washington University: “You and you alone are the only person who can live the life that can write the story that you were meant to tell. And the world needs your story because the world needs your voice.”
- Jon Lovett, Pitzer College: “F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, ‘Yeah, this should definitely be in 3D.’ No, what he said was, ‘[T]he test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.’ That’s what you have to do: You have to be confident in your potential, and aware of your inexperience. And that’s really tough.”
- John Green, Butler College: “The real hero’s journey is the journey from strength to weakness…You are going to make that journey from strength to weakness, and while it won’t be an easy trip, it is a heroic one. For in learning how to be a nobody, you will learn how not to be a jerk. And for the rest of your life, if you are able to remember your hero’s journey from college grad to underling, you will be less of a jerk. You will tip well. You will empathize. You will be a mentor, and a generous one.”
And, my two cents:
One: In the large view of life, sometimes what you don’t do makes more impact than what you do do. (No, “do do” is not a typo.) We all know someone or many someones who walk more than talk, the person who’s “roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-dirty” attitude far outweighs their pontification and rhetorical self-promotion. These are people who give me a living example of what I can do, and how I can benefit others. Wishing you find these same examples in your own life, and walk in their shoes.
And, two: I believe that my good intentions will always outweigh the effects of my actions; however, others don’t judge based on my intentions, they can only see my actions. Be vigilant in watching to be sure your intentions and the effects of your actions match. Surround yourself with people who will let you know when your intent and actions don’t match, then help you find the lesson in the aftermath, and yet equally celebrate with you when you do achieve your goals.
In the words of Mr. Spock, “Live Long & Prosper.” Congratulations Graduates!