When I graduated last year, my university had a ceremony with all the Pomp and Circumstance you could imagine. There were jumbo-trons, parents tweeting pictures and, of course, a commencement speaker. It was a good speech from a decent speaker, but if I’m honest there are a lot of other people, more and less notable, that have said the same things he did, only better and with a little more flare. So I thought I’d share my favorite quotes from the 2015 speeches.
At the University of Wisconsin Madison, Katie Couric said, “A fulfilling professional life can be found at the intersection of what you love and what you’re good at.” This advice, while eloquently stated, essentially boils down to the familiar trope of striving to achieve balance in your life. You’re not always going to love every tiny detail of your job, but if you’re good at it and you’re happy with the overall work that you’re doing, then that will fulfill you professionally. Know your skills and your dreams and somewhere they will cross paths.
At Rutgers University, Bill Nye (the science guy) reminded graduates that, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something that you don’t.” It’s important to respect that knowledge and understanding comes from different places and that you have opportunities to learn from those other people. Neither of you is an inexhaustible fountain of information, neither of you is forever going to have the correct answers; you always have opportunities to learn from those around you, even when you think you don’t. So never belittle someone else in comparison to yourself or others. Respect your differences and what you can each bring to the table.
Meredith Vieira, famous journalist and talk show host, spoke at Boston University this year. Her words resonated with me the most. She said:
“Be the left shark. Remember last super bowl, when the Patriots won? You may be thinking of Tom Brady’s deflated balls right now, but I’m thinking of Katy Perry’s half time performance. She was on stage dancing with two sharks. The shark on the right knew every dance move and performed perfectly. But it was the left shark, the one who went rogue and danced to his own crazy beat, who stole the show. So don’t ever be a conformist for convenience’s sake. Or as Mark Twain put it, ‘Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.’ Be the left shark.”
Though framed in current events, the theme remains constant: be who you are, regardless of the challenge. Your enthusiasm is an inspiration, one that should be recognized and cherished, so don’t back down just because it’s easy to be like everyone else.
I had this advice given to me last year. It came from a different speaker and in other, simpler words, but as I said the themes were the same. Still, it took me a year to accept them.
It took me one year of postgrad life to realize that I have to do things my own way and in my own time, that I don’t have to be the stereotypical post-grad with a capital P. And while I may not have all the answers yet, I don’t have to freak out about them if I don’t want to.
I hope the class of 2015 will learn from my mistakes and take the advice of their commencement speakers.