Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Advice For Every Age: Graduation Speeches

Jane Lynch's graduation speech at Smith College

Spring is the season of graduation and graduation speeches. And how things have changed since I graduated from Smith College in 1998 and sweated under a black robe through Elizabeth Dole's speech. She not only didn’t represent the majority of the study body, but her speech was quite unremarkable. In fact, all we seem to remember is the fact that she spoke. Perhaps Dole was chosen (over Jodie Foster, rumor has it) because she was a safe choice.

We can still live vicariously through this year’s graduates.

Actress Jane Lynch was this year's inspiring and thoughtful Smith College graduation speaker. Whenever you need a burst of energy, confidence or encouragement to do – or not do – something, this is the speech to turn to. Lynch uses the improv technique of asking, “yes, and?” as the overriding metaphor throughout her speech. Accept what is given to you and add to it. Excellent life – and writing – advice.

Meanwhile, author Michael Lewis spoke at Princeton University’s graduation and reminds listeners about the role of luck in success:

“Life's outcomes, while not entirely random, have a huge amount of luck baked into them. Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck — and with  luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.”

Lewis continues, “In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group. Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything.

All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you'll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don't.

Never forget: In the nation's service. In the service of all nations.”

Congratulations to the 2012 graduates, at every level and at every school. Aim to do your best in every aspect of life while treating yourself and others kindly and ethically. 

1 comment:

Chloe Yelena Miller said...

More thoughts on the subject from Slate http://www.slate.com/articles/life/roiphe/2012/06/david_mccullough_and_the_tradition_of_subversive_graduation_speeches_.html "Salinger had written something that could also apply to commencement speakers: “On the train to New York at Christmas time walk through the cars until you see a smallish boy struggling to get his suitcase up on the rack. He is sitting alone. He seems to have a cold and his nose is running. He is the one who should write to your graduates. Ask him."