Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Dispensing wisdom

Josh Binder, Rutgers 2014
Tis the season of commencement speeches.

I certainly don’t remember who spoke at my graduation ceremony, much less what was said. But I might have been more attentive if one of the following 2014 graduation speakers were at the microphone.

Charlie Day, “It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia”
Merrimack College
 
“Everything I'm truly proud of in this life has been a terrifying prospect to me. From my first play, to hosting "Saturday Night Live," getting married, being a father, speaking to you today. None of it comes easy. People will tell you to do what makes you happy, but all this has been hard work. And I'm not always happy. I don't think you should just do what makes you happy. Do what makes you great. Do what's uncomfortable and scary and hard but pays off in the long run. Be willing to fail. Let yourself fail. Fail in the way and place where you would be proud to fail. Fail and pick yourself up and fail again. Without that struggle, what is your success anyway?”
--
Ed Helms, “The Office”
Cornell University

“Only a fool would deliberately scare himself. Be that fool. Here’s the thing: scaring ourselves is, well, it’s scary and that’s not necessarily fun for anybody, but you have to do it because it’s the most potent catalyst for growth.”
--
John Legend, musician
University of Pennsylvania

“I know what it means to be all about the rat race and winning. But years from now, when you look back on your time here on earth, your life and your happiness will be way more defined by the quality of your relationships, not the quantity. You'll get much more joy out of depth, not breadth. It's about finding and keeping the best relationships possible with the people around you. It's about immersing yourself in your friendships and your family. It's about being there for the people you care about, and knowing that they'll be there for you.”
--
Atul Gawande, surgeon, writer, public-health researcher
UNC-Chapel Hill

“The aim of college is not complicated. It is to learn and try stuff so you can expand as a human being. Find what you care about. Maybe even figure out who you are and what you are here on this rock for… One thing I came to realize after college was that the search for purpose is really a search for a place, not an idea. It is a search for a location in the world where you want to be part of making things better for others in your own small way. It could be a classroom where you teach, a business where you work, a neighborhood where you live. The key is, if you find yourself in a place where you stop caring—where your greatest concern becomes only you—get out of there. You want to put yourself in a place that suits who you are, links you to others, and gives you a purpose larger than yourself worth making sacrifices for.”
--
These few excerpts barely scratch the surface of engaging, funny, and insightful commencement speeches, but they’re enough to tell me I should have listened more closely when I was in cap and gown, all those years ago. Because whoever gives the speech at graduation, there is valuable advice and experience to be shared.

For “The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever” visit the NPR website for a searchable list of 300 addresses going back to 1774.

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