“I could have said something profound, but you would have forgotten it in 15 minutes — which is the afterlife of a graduation speech.” — Art Buchwald.
It’s graduation season, that time of year when a generation that made a mess of the world exhorts the next generation to go forth and clean it up.
Of course, the older generation was also encouraged to spread peace and prosperity but somehow fumbled the ball out of the end zone. As did the generation before that. And before that.
Maybe if someone actually paid attention to graduation advice, the cycle might be broken.
That’s a lot to ask. Graduation day is not the best time to expect an eager and receptive audience. It’s a day for celebrating, not navel gazing.
For example, one of our daughters “walked” in high school, twice in college, once in law school and once when she was sworn into the bar.
And each and every ceremony that I sat through was accompanied by a speech in which grads were wished well in the real world and encouraged to do their best.
Aside from the general tone of the remarks, I remember absolutely nothing. Not one word.
I offer no excuse except for the fact that I was so caught up in the moment and awash in pride that Lincoln himself could have materialized to recite the Gettysburg Address and I would been mentally and emotionally otherwise occupied.
So shame on me. Because there are inspiring words being spoken at graduation ceremonies throughout the land that are worth hearing.
One my favorites, from a writer named Nelson Henderson, was profound in its simplicity. “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
There are plenty more.
“Responsibility to yourself means that you don’t fall for shallow and easy solutions — it means that you refuse to sell your talents and aspirations short.” — Adrienne Rich, Douglass College.
“Truth eludes us if we do not concentrate our attention totally on its pursuit.” — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Harvard University.
“Try putting your iPhones down every once in a while and look at people’s faces.” — Amy Poehler, Harvard.
“I graduated in 1989, and I’d focused almost entirely on the Soviet Union and communism … so when the Berlin wall fell, I was, well, I was screwed.” — Anderson Cooper, Tulane University.
“… our challenge is to live the final stanza of a song you have heard or sung hundreds of times … land of the free and the home of the brave!” — Anita L. Defrantz, Connecticut College.
“Just remember, you can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger, USC.
“When I was here there was still a requirement that students had to swim 50 yards to graduate … because Harry Elkins Widener had drowned with the sinking of the Titanic. And it made me very grateful at the time that he had not gone down in a plane crash.” — Barney Frank, Harvard.
“So the mission of … every empowered person in the world in this time has to be to build up the positive and reduce those negative forces of our interdependence.” — Bill Clinton, Yale University.
“Don’t let complexity stop you. Be activists. Take on the big inequities. It will be one of the great experiences of your lives.” — Bill Gates, Harvard.
“So, what’s it like in the real world? Well, the food is better, but beyond that, I don’t recommend it.” — Bill Watterson, Kenyon College.
“Life is too challenging for external rewards to sustain us. The joy is in the journey.” — Bradley Whitford, University of Wisconsin.
“Despite difficulties, always keep optimism. ‘I can overcome these difficulties.’ That mental attitude itself will bring inner strength and self-confidence.” — The Dalai Lama, Tulane.
“You are not special. You are not exceptional. Contrary to what your soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you … you’re nothing special.” — David McCullough Jr., Wellesley High School.
“Now I usually try not to give advice. Information, yes, advice, no. But, what has worked for me may not work for you. Well, take for instance what has worked for me. Wigs. Tight clothes. Push-up bras.” — Dolly Parton, University of Tennessee.
“In the perspective of infinity, our differences are infinitesimal.” — Fred Rogers, Dartmouth College.
“Yesterday is gone, tomorrow may never come, but as long as we have today, we can change the world.” — Glenn Beck, Liberty University.
“So how do you know what is the right path to choose to get the result that you desire? And the honest answer is this. You won’t.” — Jon Stewart, College of William and Mary.
“Do a lot of spitting out the hot air. And be careful what you swallow.” — Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, Lake Forest College.
“Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” — Yoda, a galaxy far, far away
Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. He can be reached at Nulede@Aol.Com.