As 2020 rolls along, one thing has become abundantly clear: this will be a year that goes down in the history books. The United States was placed on a massive shut down and the term “stay at home” became part of our daily vocabulary. We watched as the days, weeks, and months passed. Family vacations, weddings, social events, business meetings, and other plans were placed on indefinite hold.
Though there have been many setbacks, I can’t help but think about the disappointment that high school and college graduates endured.
For high school students, commencement is more than a milestone—it’s a rite of passage from youth to adulthood. Having family and friends watch as you walk across the stage, shake the principal’s hand, and receive your diploma. I applaud the school systems that used innovative, yet safe, ways to provide high school seniors a physical graduation ceremony.
While most colleges and universities canceled traditional commencement ceremonies or moved to virtual options, the shock for thousands of college students was more than the one-day event; it was the start of asking, “What’s next?” Just weeks and months prior, college graduates were preparing to enter a booming job market, and now it is one of uncertainty.
Commencement ceremony or not, high school and college graduates are entering the next chapter of their life story. Some are going on to advance their education, start a job, join the military, or take a “gap year” before starting their next journey.
Whatever the next step, today’s graduates are tomorrow’s leaders. How are they being prepared? Who is preparing them for the world’s future crises?
If you were delivering a high school or college commencement speech, what words of wisdom would you impart on these young impressionable minds?
Commencement addresses fall into two categories: memorable and forgotten.
Over the years, I have read a few memorable commencement speeches. My favorite is President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 Yale University commencement address. What President Kennedy told graduates 58 years ago, still applies today. “For the great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived, and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”
A more recent favorite is Admiral William H. McRaven (U.S. Navy Retired), who addressed the graduating class of the University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014.
Based on the premise that it’s not necessarily the monumental tasks that shape and impact our lives, but the “little things that can change your life…and maybe the world.”
“If you want to change the world, …start by making your bed,” says Admiral McRaven. “Nothing can replace the strength and comfort of one’s faith, but sometimes the simple act of making your bed can give you the lift you need to start your day and provide you the satisfaction to end it right.”
Pulling from lessons he learned during Navy SEAL training, Admiral McRaven offered graduates (and people of all ages) 10 profound but straightforward pieces of advice.
If you want to change the world…
1. Start your day with a task completed
2. You can’t go at it alone
3. Only the size of your heart matters
4. Life’s not fair—drive on
5. Failure can make you stronger
6. You must dare greatly
7. Stand up to the bullies
8. Rise to the occasion
9. Give people hope
10. Never, ever quit!
The full speech is now part of Admiral McRaven’s book “Make Your Bed,” a New York Times No. 1 Bestseller. During his 37 years as a Navy SEAL, Admiral McRaven commanded at every level. As a Four-Star Admiral, his final assignment was as Commander of all U.S. Specials Operations Force. He also served as Chancellor of the University of Texas System.