Commencement Speeches and Words of Wisdom: The Right Words at the Right Time 3

Borrowing the words of Marlo Thomas who compiled 2 great books of folk wisdom, The Right Words at the Right Time (published by Simon & Schuster, January 2004), commencement speeches are an American tradition at colleges and universities around the country serving as a launching pad for graduating students—a kind of sendoff in front of family and friends marking the end of an era and the beginning of a new more adult life. These speeches bring meaning to all of the hard work that students have just put in over the previous 4 years which are oftimes arduous and intense as students go from adolescence to adulthood, a period culminating in the deliverance of their University Degrees. It is a spiritual moment when the words spoken by passionate people hold truths which are anchored by the experiences of their lives serving as inspiration for the future lives and careers of those who are seated beside them. Not only scholars are invited to give these rite of passage speeches, but also chief executives, athletes, politicians, entrepreneurs, NASA administrators, authors, missionaries, etc.—a  cross-section of American society in an attempt to measure success in many ways. Students are able to benefit during a few brief moments of the experience and philosophies of these much older and wiser people and hear how they cast aside their fears, societal rules, pressures to  conform and prejudices of their youth in order to succeed in ways not even they could have dreamt of. These guest speakers also talk about life and death, joy and sadness, sickness and health, success and failure…and how they’ve picked themselves up numerous times in order to get to the place where they are at today. The buzz or key words this year have been “world”, “country”, “love”, and “service” rather than “money”, “happiness”, and “success” indicating a more somber and introverted mood which is being felt all over the country (the climate and the economy being largely responsible for this). The wish of the Universities and scholarly institutions is that the words spoken during these commencement exercises become catalysts for the creation of a future generation that will redefine success and open up more opportunities for themselves and those around them and eventually…who knows…save the world in the process for generations to come.  Let’s hope and pray that they succeed….

One of the most memorable commencement speeches that I’ve heard in recent years was the one given by Steve Jobs to the graduates of Stanford University in 2005, 6 months after he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In his speech, he talks about being adopted, about his childhood, about getting fired from Apple in 1985, and of course about life & death. Look at the vocabulary before you watch, and tell us if you agree with his final words: “Stay hungry…stay foolish….” (be driven and be a little crazy…)? What do YOU think he means? Let us know by writing a comment and giving us perhaps some of your words of wisdom.

Vocabulary: (under construction)

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  1. Along with humor and engaging audiences, it’s a challenge to offer a diverse audience a message that will resonate and leave them with gifts for their journey ahead.

    Here’s an example of a storied approach to this challenge. A collage of stories is used to offer students three gifts for their journey (judgment, compassion, and mercy).

    • Thank you so much Terrence for your comments and for the video contribution. Hopefully other visitors will view the videos and take away something meaningful from these life accounts. It’s nice to stop and be heard. Till the next time….


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