Sunday, May 16, 2004


The news is peppered with commencement speech summaries. Famous and notable people are making their way across college campuses, dispensing wisdom, proclaiming advice, exhorting action. I sometimes imagine myself addressing a high school or college graduation.

I'd remind students that commencement isn't about endings, but about beginnings (the word commence means 'to begin, to initiate'). I'd tell them to look back with pride, but look forward with excitement.

I'd advise them to listen to their hearts these next few tender years. What does your heart want to do? Don't question it! It doesn't know why. It wants what it wants. What do you want to do? You can listen to your heart when you're thirty or forty, but the chances of following your heart are strongest now.

I'd tell students what they don't want to hear: that time is short. You're only young once. Someday, you'll be weighed down with "practical matters": job, marriage, mortgage, children. You'll be ordinary like me, and you have to make the best of it, by being the person you want to be.

I'd ask parents to truly let go at this stage. I'd also ask the same of old friends. We have to let them go. We have to let them fly. We've given them our money, our support. Now let's give them their time.

People of accomplishment are favored speakers at commencement exercises, but living a good life is an accomplishment itself. And a good life can be had with simple lessons: listen and know yourself; be positive; be good. It shouldn't take a famous person to remind graduates of this.

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