As another group of Gen Z students transition out of college and into the “real world,” the launch point is the commencement speech. Commencement speeches are often humor- and inspiration-filled moments that not only symbolize the end of something but lay down the path for the beginning of something, too. Here are some of the lessons from this year’s speeches:
Listen to Each Other
Siddhartha Mukherjee delivered a message to USC: listen. He told a story about a patient with cancer that he had been treating who came in for a chemo treatment, how the patient told him he was tired of fighting and just wanted to go home and have a cookie. Mukherjee could have forced the treatment, but instead sent the patient home with a cookie. That patient ended up living for two more years, long enough to see his son graduate, all because his doctor listened when he needed a break from the aggressive treatments they were doing, empathized with him, and treated his humanity instead of his condition. He encouraged all the graduates to listen more.
“Go get out of your heads, go out in the world and listen to it — and most importantly, please, make us listen to you.”
Trust Your Inner Voice
Ronan Farrow delivered the commencement address at Loyola Marymount University on May 5. Farrow recently won a Pulitzer for his reporting on Harvey Weinstein in the New Yorker, and he began his speech by telling the students how tired he was, and how his career in journalism – Pulitzer or not – was anything but certain. He talked about the choice he made to pursue the story, and implored graduates to heed their inner voice.
“Because more than ever we need people to be guided by their own senses of principle—and not the whims of a culture that prizes ambition, and sensationalism, and celebrity, and vulgarity, and doing whatever it takes to win.
Because if enough of you listen to that voice—if enough of you prove that this generation isn’t going to make the same mistakes as the one before—then doing the right thing won’t seem as rare, or as hard, or as special.”
Take Calculated Risks
Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood of Lady Antebellum delivered the commencement speech at the University of Georgia, their Alma mater. They told the story about going to school together and going to work in the business world. At the same time, they kept writing songs together, and eventually went to Nashville. They told the graduates that they didn’t come to school to be country stars, but by having the degrees in their back pockets, they were able to take the calculated risk and know they had something to fall back on.
“There is more than one clear path and direction. Good luck. I wish you all well, I hope you can find your dream job, but just be happy, find your purpose, [and] be nice to mom and dad.”
No Obstacle Is Too High
Aimee Mullins, actress from the hit Netflix show Stranger Things, delivered the commencement speech for Northeastern University’s Class of 2018. Born without her fibulae, Mullins legs were amputated at the knee when she was a baby. She went from being told she would never walk to competing in track & field in college to being the driving force behind the design of prosthetics designed for sprinters. In addition to joking with the graduates that they could no longer ask their parents for money, she inspired them with the idea that no obstacle is too high.
“I’d like you to remember that naiveté, curiosity, and daydreaming are tools for building a better life, and you should be reaching into your toolbox for them often.”
You don’t have to be from the class of 2018 for these words to inspire and motivate. Congratulations to all of the year’s graduates and their families.