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Jun 26, 2019

As You Embark on Your Future: Advice from Commencement Speeches

Commencement 6.26.19

It might be the Toastmaster in me or the high-school graduation speaker in me that propel my interest in commencement speeches. Every year, I look for examples of life lessons, tips for self-improvement and ways to pave the road to success. This year’s collection of speakers covers more in the entertainment field and less in the world of politics.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor told the graduating class at Manhattan College that “education exposes you to what the world has to offer, to the possibilities open to you. She told the story of often being asked if when she was a child if she imagined being on the Supreme Court. ‘No,’ I say, ‘When I was a child, my family was poor. No lawyer or judges lived in my neighborhood. I knew nothing about the Supreme Court … You cannot dream of becoming something you do not know about. You have to learn to dream big.”

Tim Cook, Apple CEO cautioned the graduating classes of Tulane University and Stanford University not to be too cautious. He told them to “steer your ship into the choppy seas. Look for the rough spots, the problems that seem too big, the complexities that other people are content to work around. It’s in those places that you will find your purpose. . .Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of being too cautious. Don’t assume that by staying put, the ground won’t move beneath your feet. The status quo simply won’t last. So get to work on building something better.”

Perennial favorite Commencement speaker Oprah Winfrey spoke at Colorado College. She told the crowd, “I’m here to tell you that your life isn’t some big break like everybody thinks it is. They’re waiting on the big break. It’s actually about taking one significant life-transforming step at a time,” she explained. “Small steps lead to big accomplishments.” She also called on the crowd to “use your life in service; you will be in service to life. You will speak up. You will show up. You will stand up You will sit in. You will volunteer. You will vote. You will shout out. You will help. You will lend a hand.”

Actress Katie Holmes spoke at the University of Toledo and told the graduates to ”go out there and make things happen for yourself. And that’s a terrifying and amazing responsibility. You deserve joy — not in ten years, but now. So try to be equal parts tough and gentle with yourself. Take things one step at a time. Work hard when no one is looking.”

Bill Nye, Science Guy, spoke at both Cornell and Goucher College. His talk focused on the power of change. He said, “Use your knowledge and your abilities to bring out the best in those around you, and let them bring out the best in you. We are all so very excited about your future, because you can and you will – dare I say it? – change the world.” We can learn from others because “everyone you’ll ever meet knows something you don’t. Everyone. Farmers know things about plants that most of us, even botanists, never will. Bricklayers have an intimate knowledge of what it takes to lay bricks. Cooks know how to use copper bowls to control egg proteins, and that’s cool. Respect that knowledge and learn from others. It will bring out the best in them, and it will bring out the best in you.”

We can all learn from these bits of advice even if our college graduations were not this year. It is always a good time to work on self-improvement and personal and professional development so let’s get started.

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