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Jun 6, 2018

Lessons from 2018 Big-Name Commencement Speakers


In February we have the Super Bowl, in March, NCAA March Madness and in May, I follow the Commencement Speaker roundup. Every year a multitude of actors, athletes, musicians, entrepreneurs, and politicians are invited to be commencement speakers at university and high school graduations to impart word of wisdom that I can use in my agency and personal life. This year is no different and I am highlighting only a few of the speakers.

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations told graduating students at Clemson University to be “thankful to be alive in America in 2018. Every day at the United Nations, I deal with nations where people are not free. It is not that the United States is perfect. We’re not. But we have been given a great set of tools — freedom, the rule of law and respect for human rights — with which we can create a more perfect union.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke at New York University (NYU) on May 16 and challenged his audience to embrace diversity. He said, “I would like you to make a point of reaching out to people whose beliefs and values differ from your own. I would like you to listen to them, truly listen, and try to understand them, and find that common ground. “

Entrepreneurs and CEOs took to the stage to inspire graduates to go for the brass ring, aim high and live life to the fullest. Tim Cook, Apple CEO spoke at Duke University and reminded of Steve Jobs’ credo—”Daring to think different.” He pointed out that because the graduates had the opportunity, which is not afforded to everyone, to receive higher-level education, they now have a responsibility to gather up their courage and “build a better future for themselves and others.”

While Haley, Trudeau and Cook painted an optimistic future for the Class of 2018, Oprah Winfrey at the University of Southern California (USC) Annenberg School for Communications, said that it appears that “the world has gone off its rocker, we just are all becoming hysterical, and it’s getting worse.” She also pointed out that “your job is not always going to fulfill you.” She said. “There will be some days that you just might be bored. Other days you may not feel like going to work at all. Go anyway, and remember that your job is not who you are. It’s just what you are doing on the way to who you will become. “The number one lesson I can offer you where your work is concerned,” said Oprah, “is this: Become so skilled, so vigilant, so flat-out fantastic at what you do, that your talent cannot be dismissed.”

To end with a more hopeful example, we turn to Abby Wambach, retired soccer star, who spoke at Barnard College: “Failure is the highest octane fuel your life can run on,” she said. I’ve learned to let the feelings and lessons of failure transform into my power. Failure is fuel. Fuel is power.”

The Toastmaster and high-school graduation speaker in me will continue to propel me to listen to these speakers and to find life lessons such as the importance of gratitude, willingness to learn from others, responsibility, persistence, and getting back on one’s feet after a failure. My hope is that the 2019 speakers will be able to paint a brighter image of current day America.

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