Written by Jacqueline Newell
The last month and a half has been a time of celebration in the US. It involves uncomfortable floor length robes, colorful cords festooned around necks and advice that no one really asked for. If you have ever graduated from high school or college, chances are you sat through a speech by someone you had never heard of and they fed you more clichés than a rom-com.
But for some, commencement speech season is a little bit more exciting when you’re not sitting in a plastic chair anxiously waiting to receive a piece of paper. At some schools, celebrities visit, comics deliver quick one-liners and some give uncensored advice. Personally, it’s only been a year and I have no idea what the name of our key note speaker was or what s/he even talked about. More likely than not, it was about studying abroad and being world citizens because we were the inaugural class of the GO Program, a required study abroad program at Susquehanna University.
Two of my favorite commencement speeches from this spring come from a man and a woman who both work in the TV industry. Charlie Day, one of the creators of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Shondra Rhimes, writer of the shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. These days, speakers seem to be getting more honest and real with their advice. They let us know that a hashtag is not a movement, that there is no creativity without failure, and it’s okay to be hungover every once in a while.
Charlie Day spoke at his alma mater, Merrimack College while looking like a “medieval pastry chef” and let us all know that “the higher you climb in life, the more ridiculous your hat. like the one I’m wearing today, the Pope’s and Pharrell’s.” He was honest in his speech and he admitted to cutting the shower curtains at waist high in the men’s bathroom freshman year. He also recognized that Kermit the Frog has also received an honorary Ph.D. and that your degrees will do nothing, it will inevitably collect dust. His main lesson was this – you cannot let a fear of failure, or a fear of comparison or a fear of judgement stop you from being great and you should not do what makes you happy, you should do what makes you great. He closed with the idea that you don’t have to be fearless, just don’t like fear stop you.
When Rhimes spoke at the Dartmouth 2014 commencement speech, she shared that this year she made a promise that she would do stuff that scares her. She paid tribute to the parents who, as she put it, will be taking back their lives now that their child has graduated and admitted that she was terrified to enter the real world when she graduated. But, she shared two things that I think are incredibly important. 1. Be a do-er, not a dreamer. While some are “busy dreaming, the really happy people are busy doing.” Rhimes honestly tells us that dreamers start sentences with “I wanna be…” and “I wish…” and they don’t get anything done. 2. A hashtag is not a movement. “A hashtag is not helping. #yesallwomen #takebackthenight #notallmen #bringbackourgirls #StopPretendingHashtagsAreTheSameAsDoingSomething.” She encouraged students to find a cause that they love, pick one and devote time to it each week. Volunteer and make the world a better place. You may not find what you love right away, but pick something and keep moving forward. As she put it – you may never get your sea legs and you’ll always be nauseous, and I think that is perfectly fine.
What are some of your favorite commencement speeches?
Peace, Love & Graduation