The end of the school year is fast approaching. Last spring, I was honored by the class of 2009 who selected me as their graduation speaker. It occurred to me that, though many had asked, I’d never posted anything about what I’d said. I’m also selfishly afraid that if I don’t post this somewhere it might get misplaced in my digital “filing” system.
What follows is the rough crib notes that I spoke from at Commencement on May 30, 2009.
Good afternoon Dr. Cabrera, Dr. Dreier, distinguished faculty, proud parents and families, and soon-to-be graduates of Loveland High School. I am so humbled to have been asked to speak to you today on one of the most important days of your lives. In so many ways, I feel — maybe not so much like a proud father — but maybe more like a proud uncle to all of you. After all, this is the first group of graduating seniors I’ve sponsored at Loveland High.
Graduates, look around. These are the people who have not only come here to share this day with you, but who have supported you in all that you’ve done to get here. I’d like all of you to look around and give these people a round of applause.
Once the incredible honor of being asked to deliver this address started to wear off, however, I started to get a little bit nervous about what to actually talk to you about. What would the class of 2009 want to hear?
We had a commencement speaker at my graduation, too, and though I don’t remember who he was or what he said, I remember he talked a long time. But I didn’t hear him. As it turns out, the whole time he was talking I was thinking to myself, “What in the world am I going to do now?”
Here you are, about to walk through this metaphorical door, and you have no idea what’s on the other side. It’s almost never what you expect it to be, though. It’s a balance between things you try to make happen and things that happen to you. What I can tell you, though, is that the more crooked and winding the way, the more interesting your life will turn out to be.
With all that in mind, deciding on a message for this momentous day wasn’t easy. After pleading with Rachel, Peter, and Owen not to give the “same old graduation speech,” how could I have lesser expectations for myself? So I set about on an inquisition of sorts. I did what everyone else does these days: I posted about it on Facebook.
One of my students informed me that no commencement speech is complete without a reference to “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost… So we’ll talk more about that in a bit.
But before we begin, I’d like to clear the air. I’d like to share with you some of the things that you won’t be hearing from me this afternoon.
First, I won’t be suggesting that any of you “spread your wings.” You won’t be hearing anything about “seizing the day,” or how you have “so much more to learn.” And, sadly, we will not be discussing how the hallways at Loveland High – the ones that seemed so large and foreboding only four short years ago – seem much, much smaller today.
Oh – and I also won’t be welcoming you to some scary-sounding “real world.” What I would like to talk to you about, though, is YOUR real world and how important it is for you not to just stand by passively watching what’s happening, but to be engaged in it.
You’ve got a very unique challenge ahead of you. You are going to have to figure out how to be authentic human beings in a world that is changing more rapidly than at any other time in our history. The good news is that the deck is stacked in your favor. The biggest advantage you have, Class of 2009, is that this is the world you grew up in.
The rest of us? Try as we might to fit in, we’re still outsiders.
I don’t want to disappoint the language arts department, but think about it — in your four years of high school, you’ve read more email and more Facebook profiles than you have textbooks or novels. You’ve typed more words with your thumbs than you’ve written in essays.
In fact, one of the most dangerous jobs I have as an administrator at Loveland High is standing at the 200/300 intersection between classes… No one’s looking where they’re going. …
There is a lot of information out there. There were 31 billion Google searches last month alone. And the best part is, everyone has access. The playing field has been leveled. Anyone who wants information can have it.
It’s no longer what or how much you know that will make you truly stand out. What will really set you apart from the crowd is that you get all of this stuff.
Unlike the rest of us in this building today, you’re already there. Think about it — lots of you are heading out to graduation parties this weekend. Odds are, you text messaged everyone you know to decide on a date and time, sent out a few dozen “evites,” and started taking RSVPs — all while the adults in the room were still trying to decide on flowers or balloons.
More so than ever before, you have the tools and the skills to connect with the world. A much bigger world than any other generation that has come before you. Your thoughts and ideas have the ability to extend beyond your neighborhood or your college campus. You have a chance to reach out, to connect, to share ideas. I say, “chance,” because it’s up to you. You don’t have to take it.
The tools that empower us to connect with the world can, ironically, allow us to disconnect from each other as well.
Unlike in your Civics class at Loveland High, there is no community service requirement for life. No one will force you to care or to engage with the world. You can walk across this stage, grab your diploma, and go chasing after the nice house and new car. And no one will blame you.
Of course, I hope you don’t do that. On your way to continued success, I hope that you’ll take the time to be grateful to those who continue to support you every day. Your family and friends — the people packing this event center to be here for you.
I’ve talked a little about Google already, but I really like their corporate motto: “Don’t be evil.” As you leave here today and get busy living your life, I hope that you will take time to believe in something that’s bigger than yourself. Find your cause and pursue it passionately. Be real.
Book smarts will take you so far. But if your goal is to experience true happiness and satisfaction, you need to find your passion. Then you need to use what you already know about networking and creativity to unleash your passion on the world. I believe that your passion is what will eventually solve the problems facing the world today. Act without passion and you’re just making noise. Or, to paraphrase William Shakespeare, it’s a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
A few weeks ago, on a stage much like this in Arizona, our nation’s president challenged the graduates of Arizona State to follow their passions, regardless of whether they lead to fortune and fame. He challenged the graduates to do more, to build more, to achieve more, and today I’d like you to consider this advice as well.
How will you use what you’ve learned and what you’re passionate about to make your mark on the world?
As any good Aerosmith fan knows, Steven Tyler said, “Life’s a journey, not a destination.” Now this is where I think speeches about journeys and paths and two roads diverging can get cliché. We tend to assume we’re trying to get somewhere.
But consider the alternative. T.S. Eliot wrote, “In my end is my beginning.” In another poem in the same book he said, “And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.” So maybe the journey isn’t about getting somewhere so much as it’s about trying to find out who we are and how we fit in a world that is both bigger than it’s ever been, but smaller at the same time.
So, Class of 2009, you have the book knowledge that you picked up along the way, but you also have an understanding of the world that the rest of us will never fully grasp. What you’ve learned in school is important, but it’s not the most important. What you need to do now, graduates, is unleash your passion on the world. Use what you know to do good, not evil.
Congratulations, Class of 2009. And thank you for choosing me to speak to you this afternoon.