Tag Archives: commencement speech

The Class of 2015: Let Your Love Bind You To All Living Things.

Editor’s note: You may also enjoy last year’s graduation article, Graduation Completes The Circle. 

By: Chris Warren.

More than just recognition for academic achievement, graduation is a celebration, a joy, and a time for release after having completed a difficult years-long task. It’s a time of excitement and dreams. A time to behold the great things that come next and the doors that are opened. Beyond the honors and knowledge, the big hope is that graduates will understand that what really changes the world is a concern for others.

People who are intellectually brilliant but look out only for themselves are dangerous and seldom use their abilities for anything positive. Being smart is only half the equation. One also needs a good heart and a sense of right and wrong. Your education gives your heart something to do; whether that “something” is good or bad depends on what was in your heart in the first place. Love for others binds you to others. That is why those who love only themselves have so little concern for others. They are attached to no one and therefore have no reason to care about anyone. Even when they do good works, it’s with the ulterior motive of elevating themselves.

One does not have to be exceptionally intelligent to make a difference. Yes, society needs smart people to cure diseases, launch rockets, and solve great problems, but the everyday normal people who quietly do small things we’ll never see in headlines count too. The food banks, the elderly, the disabled veterans, single parents, and the unemployed all need the kind of help that does not come from book learning. You don’t need a four year college degree to put your hand on someone’s shoulder and tell them you care. Effective love does not require a grade transcript or a resumé.

As the class of 2015 goes its separate ways, compassion, concern, and love for life should be the common theme that keeps their souls together no matter how far apart they go in time and place. Many things in their lives will change, but hearts stay the same. If they spend the rest of their years looking for ways to use what they know to benefit others, regardless of benefit to self, then their educations have been a huge success.

Diplomas and degrees don’t mean much if your mind is full but your heart is empty.

The teachers of the class of 2015 will likely never know what eventually becomes of the students they gently tended like a garden. It makes them feel good to see their students graduate, but letting students go is hard to do even when it was understood that letting them go was the the point of teaching them to begin with. A teacher knows that commencement is a synonym for beginning. Just as the pain of saying goodbye repeats itself every single year, so too is the joy of being given a fresh class of students to watch over and guide along. A teacher is an artist who never gets to see his own finished masterpiece.

The most important lesson the class of 2015 should leave with is that diplomas and degrees don’t mean much if your mind is full but your heart is empty. You have been watched out for, helped, protected, and loved for your entire educational experience. The hour has arrived for you to go out and multiply unto others the kindness you have received yourselves. At times the job will be difficult, perhaps hopeless, yet the moment will come when you see that your elders were right the whole time. Love has a value much greater than the pain spent achieving it. Show the world that true wisdom is equal parts knowledge and compassion. You have been given all the tools you need. You know right from wrong. You have no excuses. Go proudly forward and let your love bind you to all living things.


Graduation’s Greatest Hits?

By Chris Warren.

In the next month or two, high school and college seniors will be graduating and moving forward with their lives. The well intended commencement speeches typically include a list of pithy if not outright condescending advice for the graduates. It’s not too late for those who have been asked to give these speeches to carefully edit themselves and avoid patronizing clichés. The list could go on for pages and pages, but here are a few of the “greatest hits” to be avoided for all time:

Do what you love and the money will follow. This is at the top of my list as the biggest heap o’graduation shit that has ever been spoken. Any activity you are passionate about but can’t support yourself with is called a hobby. There is no cosmic law that states anyone can make money doing anything if only they love doing it enough. Since life is not a one way street, those who insist on believing this ridiculous idealism must also accept with it the equally foolish converse argument: One cannot earn a living doing something they hate. I’m going to settle this nonsense with some easily quantifiable earthly reality: There are tens of millions more people toiling away at barely tolerable but reasonably well paying occupations than there are making a decent buck at their dream job. Acceptable alternative advice: If you love something that much, the money (or lack of it) won’t matter.redstone

Be yourself. I don’t get this one. How can you not “be yourself?” Taken to its ultimate conclusion, this lame pop psychology narcissism is just another excuse for every individual to think the world must form around them. But the world is full of uncomfortable circumstances where you might have to be polite when you don’t mean it, be supportive when inside you don’t agree, or be cooperative with people you think are incompetent. Those who are dishonest or fake about who they are are being themselves. Cheerfully going along with something you don’t like for diplomatic reasons or to attain a legitimate goal is not the same as willfully involving oneself in objectionable, immoral, or illegal activities. Acceptable alternative advice: Acting is an important life skill; learn to adapt your outward behavior to any situation even if it means being insincere.

Think outside the box. This tiresome business buzzword has leaked into academia and is the only point on the list that sort-of comes close to being useful wisdom. Unfortunately, it has evolved into a catch all vindication for dumb ideas and dead end personal goals. Thinking outside the box works best for older people who have learned from prior successes and failures and have enough restraint to know how far they can go. Less discerning young people are inclined to be different just for the sake of being different with no clear end game other than to clash with tradition. The “box” existed as long as it has for a reason. Some things just plain work and do not need to be challenged. Acceptable alternative advice: Thinking outside the box is fine, but only if the method used is better than what is already in the box.

By time young people reach graduation, they have spent many years exposed to a wide range of viewpoints from the internet and are far more adept at spotting a recycled idea than us older types were at their age. They are too smart to fall for dusted off hollow maxims that are accurate to a limited degree but have no mass appeal to today’s graduates and do not work for 99% of the people who try them. The opportunity to effect the lives of young people is very fleeting; commencement speakers should not waste the few minutes they have spreading unrelatable one-liners that at best are poorly chosen, and at worst full blown lies.

Graduation Completes The Circle.

By: Chris Warren

Almost every commencement address has the same basic theme: You (graduates) are bright and energetic and will change the world. You have vast opportunities; all you need to do is go and get them. Work hard, get good grades, and success will be yours! The theme is trite and shopworn, but since most of us will hear it only once or twice and at a time when we are excited about completing a big life achievement, no one really knows or cares that it’s been recycled every year for generations.

In fairness to all the cliché artists who are recruited to deliver these hand-me-down nuggets of wisdom, for the last seven decades or so the advice was accurate. It really was true that hard work and serious study was an express ticket to the good life. If a solid job and home ownership is the “American dream,” then a good education is its mother.

It may be for the better that I haven’t been asked to give a graduation speech, because I do not think I could bring myself to stand in front of impressionable young people and feed them a heap o’crap about how hard work and dedication will see them through. The old perennial platitudes are broken. A weak economy and languishing morals means many opportunities that used to be there are gone. There are people with Master’s degrees working at Taco Bell. Where is the big payoff for all their sweat? The world for young people, in a word, sucks.

But this is the Thoughtful, Positive, Relevant blog, so for my hypothetical speech I am determined to come up with something that is affirming, uplifting, and truthful. I won’t be placed in a position where in order to be the best graduation speaker ever I’d also have to be the best liar. It’s very unkind to piss on the hopes and dreams of young people at such a meaningful moment in their life; it’s also wrong to tell a complete lie in deference to their big day. I think I’ve found a way around this untenable situation.

To the Class of 2014:

For your entire lives you have been taught that brains and sweat will take you far. That is still true, except now you will need more brains and more sweat than anyone who came before you to get what used to be considered a standard middle class existence. The average will need to become stronger, and the strong will need to become superlative. The weak are doomed, but not because of the new way the world works. The weak are and always have been doomed no matter what state the world is in. That may be the only thing that never changes.

The fact that you are here at this time and place proves you are not weak. The weak have already quit and left this group. So the question now is not “who among you are weak?” but, “how strong are you?”

Strong people know the difference between confidence and arrogance: The strong know what they are capable of and do not need constant praise. Weak people must always be the topic of conversation, making sure everyone knows they are the smartest person in the room (even if they aren’t).  Strong people know they might be the smartest person in the room, but conduct themselves with a subtle touch of class that needs no big pronouncement and lets the room figure out on their own who is the smartest. Weak people brag about themselves; strong people quietly step aside and let others do the bragging for them.

Strong people are kind even to those who do not deserve it: This might be the hardest part of being a strong person. Being nice to those who are nice to us is easy, even pleasurable. It’s a much different matter when dealing with someone who would be in a lot of trouble if instant karma was real. Weak people think of themselves as judge and jury of all behavior and seek revenge for every little slight committed against them. Strong people choose their battles carefully and do unto others as they would have done unto them, accepting with grace that they will often be forced by their principles to give others a better deal than they received in return.

“And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game “

-Joni Mitchell, The Circle Game


Strong people are grateful for where they came from: No one was born knowing everything, and almost no one succeeds as a solo act. Every one of us was helped and guided by others. Weak people assure their own failure by thinking they can do everything themselves. Strong people succeed because they humbly accept help from those who love and care about them and are going to invest heart and soul into steering them away from failure. There is no greater feeling than having someone behind you and believing in you. Knowing they are loved is the greatest trait of strong people.

There is still much to be hopeful for among all the sadness in the world. New graduates are a clean slate, not yet jaded by the experiences of life. Every new graduation class is God’s way of telling humanity, “This is your do-over. Let these people run the place.” As long the Almighty keeps blessing us with fresh graduates every spring as reliably as blooming flowers, there will always be a possibility that things will get better. That brings me to my last point:

Strong people are grateful for where they are going. We should not overlook that gratitude is a two way street. If graduates are expected be thankful for the wisdom of those who helped them, we older folks also need to thank the young for the bright hope that they will do better than their elders. Weak people believe they will always be ageless and relevant. Strong people know the day will come when their moment in the sun and way of doing things will be over. It will be time for the circle to complete and let the future go to the next generation. We can only pray that our love for them mattered.

(photo credit: http://wholles.com)