Now for those commencement addresses.
I’ve picked a few that I thought had some good messages. Hope you enjoy them.
Nih Nai, valedictorian, Moore (Okla.) High School
(Nai delivered his address Saturday night, five days after the tornado destroyed much of his town, to the 412-person Moore Class of 2013.)
“We’re damaged, but we survived. We’re hurt, but we are resilient. We’re graduating, but we are not done with our successes.”
John Green, author, Butler University
“You are probably going to be a nobody for a while. 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.
“Let me submit to you that this is the actual definition of a good life. You want to be the kind of person who other people — people who may not even be born yet — will think about … at their own commencements. I am going to hazard a guess that relatively few of us thought of all the work and love that Selena Gomez or Justin Bieber put into making this moment possible for us. We may be taught that the people to admire and emulate are actors and musicians and sports heroes and professionally famous people, but when we look at the people who have helped us, the people who actually change actual lives, relatively few of them are publicly celebrated. We do not think of the money they had, but of their generosity. We do not think of how beautiful or powerful they were, but how willing they were to sacrifice for us — so willing, at times, that we might not have even noticed that they were making sacrifices.”
Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve System chairman, Bard College
“Innovation, almost by definition, involves ideas that no one has yet had, which means that forecasts of future technological change can be, and often are, wildly wrong. A safe prediction, I think, is that human innovation and creativity will continue; it is part of our very nature. Another prediction, just as safe, is that people will nevertheless continue to forecast the end of innovation. The history of technological innovation and economic development teaches us that change is the only constant. During your working lives, you will have to reinvent yourselves many times. Success and satisfaction will not come from mastering a fixed body of knowledge but from constant adaptation and creativity in a rapidly changing world.”
Cal Ripken, baseball player, University of Maryland
“When my dad was in his development role in the minor leagues with the Orioles, he coined a phrase that said, ‘We try to put 40-year-old heads on 20-year-old bodies. It just doesn’t work.’ What that meant was that dad and the other coaches tried to implant all the years of their own playing experiences into the young players’ heads. But that wisdom can’t be simply transferred; it also has to be experienced and earned by each individual. Sorry, folks: there are no shortcuts on this one.
“Now let me turn to what I consider the key to taking talent and skill to the highest level. It’s attitude. Are you positive or negative as you approach life’s challenges? When I first started playing professional baseball, I quickly dismissed all this attitude talk. I thought it was a waste of time. All that mattered to me was getting my reps in practice and how I did in the games. The games were not contests between two teams — they were my individual exams. If I got three hits and we lost, I was happy. If we won and I went oh-for, I was mad. I was obsessed with my stats. They were my ticket to the show. I couldn’t stand the umpires, because from my view, every mistake they made would cost me. I had problems with the official scorekeepers because their decisions cost me hits and added errors to my record.
“But even with this attitude, I was moving up in the organization. Then it hit me — in fact, quite literally. I got hit with a 94 mile per hour pitch in the side of my helmet in Baltimore. I was struggling mightily in the early part of my rookie season, and I was miserable. That shot to the head knocked some sense into me. Earlier in the week, my veteran teammate and All-Star Ken Singleton had pulled me aside and showed me a tape of me throwing a helmet and just said, ‘We don’t do that here. That’s not what it’s all about. That’s the wrong attitude.’ So after getting beaned and while laying on the X-ray table, I started to think more about what Ken said. The conclusion I came to was that it wasn’t all about me, and the world certainly was not my enemy. I realized that I was affected with a negative attitude. That ball striking me helped flip the switch, and I made a choice to have a positive attitude. My talent and skill had supported me to that point. My change in attitude helped me achieve being named Rookie of the Year that year and MVP the next. As I continued playing the game I loved, I stopped blaming. I was accountable. I was more in control. My rational mind started working instead of my reactive mind. I started finding solutions before they became issues.
“When you truly have a positive attitude, you capture that energy of what can be accomplished as opposed to why it can’t be done. Your failures even become valuable experiences. Where would the world be without Thomas Edison’s failures and his positive attitude in dealing with them? He himself said, ‘I failed my way to success.’ ”
Michelle Obama, First Lady, Bowie State (Md.) University
“When it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered. Today, instead of walking miles every day to school, they’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper. Right now, one in three African American students are dropping out of high school. Only one in five African Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 has gotten a college degree. One in five. We need to once again fight to educate ourselves and our children like our lives depend on it, because they do.
“When it comes to your own kids, if you don’t like what they’re watching on TV, turn it off. If you don’t like the video games they’re playing, take them away. Take a stand against the media that elevates today’s celebrity gossip instead of the serious issues of our time. Take a stand against the culture that glorifies instant gratification instead of hard work and lasting success. And as my husband has said often, please stand up and reject the slander that says a black child with a book is trying to act white. Reject that.”
Julie Andrews, actor/author, Colorado University
“I’ve been thinking about today, and what I could say to you. It suddenly occurred to me that one of the last speeches you will hear in college will be this one. That scared me half to death. I mean, what can I tell you? I never finished high school. I never, sadly, attended college. As a youngster, I was traveling the length and breadth of the British Isles, singing my head off in the Music Halls — a theater brat, with a freaky four-and-a-half-octave range. You might assume that after a life in theater and film, I wouldn’t be nervous in a situation like this, but I can assure you that I am or was, before your very warm welcome. Today is about celebration, but despite that, you might just also be feeling a little nervous — and, perhaps even fearful. Believe me, feeling nervous is par for the course.
“I remember saying once to my husband, Blake, on the eve of my return to Broadway after a 35-year absence, ‘You know, I’m really feeling VERY frightened about this,’ and I began to tear up. He simply replied, ‘Darling, did you actually expect to feel anything else?’ I remembered — yet again — that fear is a part of life. The trick is to recognize it and then press on anyway. In fact, the real trick is to stop focusing on oneself and start focusing on others. There was a time in my late 20s when I worried all the time what audiences thought. Will they like me? Am I up to par? And it suddenly dawned on to me that everyone in the audience had paid good money to come see a show they really wanted to see, and possibly, they were there after a day of dealing with a lot of stress. Maybe it was tax time, perhaps someone had a family member who was ill, or had a fight with a loved one — I could think of a hundred scenarios. I realized that I was in a position to brighten their day, to make a difference, to give them three hours of surcease, of transcendence, and hopefully, joy. From that moment on, I began to develop a mindset of giving. I stopped looking inward, I began to grow up and I started looking outward, with an eye toward making a difference wherever and whenever I could.
“Today, I invite you to start looking at life the same way.
“There are so many opportunities for giving in this world. Don’t engage in random acts of kindness; engage in planned acts of kindness. Use your knowledge and your heart to stand up for those who can’t stand. Speak for those who can’t speak.”
Jon Lovett, former presidential speech writer, Pitzer (Calif.) College
“The problem I am going to describe involves a bad word. Not the worst word, but a bad word, though I’ve made sure that I only have to say it now and then one more time at the end. So if you want to distract any little kids for a second, please do so. One of the greatest threats we face is, simply put, bulls–t. We are drowning in it. We are drowning in partisan rhetoric that is just true enough not to be a lie; in industry-sponsored research; in social media’s imitation of human connection; in legalese and corporate double-speak. It infects every facet of public life, corrupting our discourse, wrecking our trust in major institutions, lowering our standards for the truth, making it harder to achieve anything. And it wends its way into our private lives as well, changing even how we interact with one another: the way casual acquaintances will say, ‘I love you;’ the way we describe whatever thing as ‘the best thing ever;’ the way we are blurring the lines between friends and strangers. … Life tests our willingness, in ways large and small, to tell the truth. And I believe that so much of your future and our collective future depends on your doing so. So I’m going to give you three honest, practical lessons about cutting the BS.
“Number one: Don’t cover for your inexperience. You are smart, talented, educated, conscientious, untainted by the mistakes and conventional wisdom of the past. But you are also very annoying. Because there is a lot that you don’t know that you don’t know. Your parents are nodding. You’ve been annoying them for years. Why do you think they paid for college? So that you might finally, at long last, annoy someone else.
“You have to be confident in your potential, and aware of your inexperience. And that’s really tough. There are moments when you’ll have a different point of view because you’re a fresh set of eyes, because you don’t care how it’s been done before, because you’re sharp and creative, because there is another way, a better way. But there will also be moments when you have a different point of view because you’re wrong, because you’re 23 and you should shut up and listen to somebody who’s been around the block. It’s hard to tell the difference. Me, I love getting this one wrong. I got it wrong a ton when I started out as a speechwriter to Hillary Clinton. I got it wrong again when I became a presidential speechwriter.
“But there is another side to this coin, which brings me to lesson number two: Sometimes you’re going to be inexperienced, naïve, untested and totally right. And then, in those moments, you have to make a choice: is this a time to speak up, or hang back? I worked for then-Senator Clinton during her campaign for president — and I believed in her, still do. But I vividly remember feeling like things weren’t right in that campaign; a lot of the young staffers felt that way. It wasn’t a secret that there were problems in how the campaign was run. The campaign pollster for example, rolled out so many slogans it was impossible to keep track. Here’s a sample:
Let the Conversation Begin
Ready for Change, Ready to Lead
Working for Change, Working for You
“… And then, my favorite: Big Challenges, Real Solutions: Time to Pick a President. Which he had printed on the side of a bus, but it was basically too small to read.
“So, I’m putting these slogans into speeches and I look over at an Obama campaign rally on cable news and they have one slogan. It’s just the word CHANGE in big letters. That seemed better. But I was timid; and a lot of us just assumed, or wanted to assume, that more experienced people must know what they’re doing. But that wasn’t true. So the campaign ended, my candidate lost, and I ended up as a presidential speechwriter anyway, which was cool. But the lesson I drew from that campaign, other than the fact that it’s always a mistake to run against Barack Obama, is the subway rule: ‘If you see something, say something.’ And I’ve tried to honor that ever since.”
Bud Selig, commissioner of baseball, St. Norbert (Wisc.) College
“The Braves moved to Atlanta after the 1965 season, leaving many heartbroken fans in Milwaukee behind. I shared the sadness that swept our community. But I have never been one to sit back and wallow instead of searching for a solution, and the disappointment I once felt gave way to a sense of determination. While I was only 30 years old and the odds were tremendously stacked against us, I decided to do what I could to bring a big league club back to my hometown. My dream was to make Milwaukee and Wisconsin feel Major League once again. Trying and failing was one thing; quitting, however, was unacceptable. There were many disappointments along the way, but there was never defeat. All of our efforts became worthwhile on the night of March 31, 1970, when the American League’s Milwaukee Brewers were born. One of my most prized mementos that crystallized this long effort came from a man who made his name right here, the great Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi. He sent the first telegram I received on the morning of April 1st, 1970, that to this day is framed and hanging in my office, which said, ‘Congratulations on finally obtaining the team after so many years. I wish you great success.’ With this example in mind, I urge each of you to chase your dreams. … You have the ability to be a force for change.”
Brian Williams, anchor/managing editor, NBC Nightly News, Elon University
“Break the cycle of entitlement and expectations. [Applause.] Hear that applause? Those are older people. And here’s this generational shift that led to this groundswell of applause. All the people that applauded, we were basically under the assumption we were losers unless proven otherwise in this country. It was just a grinding existence as we were coming up. You guys came along a little different. ‘Hey Mom and Dad, I breathed today!’ And we would order the ice cream cake. That’s just a generational mindset shift. It wasn’t your fault. We did it because we just felt, ‘We can’t let them fail at anything.’ So our educational system and the self-esteem and self-celebration created by a generation not your own, let’s just check it and be aware of it as we go forth into the social realm and jobs. Same with the use of first person. I know it is the basis of social media. My worst fear is that selflessness is perhaps what made us better in the past. I’m genuinely sorry that the focus on self has meant haters in your life that we’ve all had to deal with, with no barrier to entry. You are the first generation for which hate via a send button is assumed, it’s ubiquitous, it’s expected and its corrosive effects are baked into you. That’s not fair.
“You are the first generation with the kind of routine obsession of pouring over imagery, pictures of yourself. Hundreds perhaps. Thousands of them that you feel best represent you to the outside world. Where do you look the best? Where do you look even better? What’s any of that going to mean long term? We have changed. We have gone off on our own with our devices. In just the course of one generation, and we haven’t put our arms around what this change means yet. We call our online world a community, but that just makes us feel better. It’s not. This is: people to your left and right with hopes and dreams and fears. You may enter into a family with anyone here. You may fight a war with anyone here. That is a definition of a community. So, stop yourself before you say something to your followers. Consider being a leader instead.”
Dalai Lama, Tibetan promoter of world peace, 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 20th century and our century is over, we are almost ready to say goodbye. The 20th 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 21st 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.”
Enda Kenny, prime minister of Ireland, Boston College.
“Graduates, this is your time. Be not afraid. Today, then, you have reached what we call in Irish Ceann Scríbe. Turas amháin déanta, turas eile ás bhúr gcomhair amach. One journey completed, another directly ahead.
“Today then: Let go, let fly, forget. You’ve listened long enough. Now strike your note.”