‘Tis the season of graduations, when we send our students off into the world with some parting words. In “Commencement 2013: A sampling of advice to this year’s college grads” (The Christian Science Monitor, 5/28/13), Ross Atkin offers us themes from 20 notable commencement addresses throughout the country. My top three picks from Atkin’s platter, with the addition of a link to video of each address, are:
Embrace diversity. “As you move on, you’re going to come across all kinds of people from all different places and faiths and walks of life. You can choose to pass them by without a word, or you can choose to reach out to them, no matter who they are or where they come from or what ideas they may have. That’s what’s always made this country great — embracing diversity of experience and opinion that surrounds us everywhere we go.” — Michelle Obama, Eastern Kentucky University, 5/11/13
Strive for first class character. “Always understand that first class in life has nothing to do with where you sit on an airplane. First class in life has nothing to do with the clothes you wear, the car you drive or the house you live in. First class is and always will be about the content of your character, the quality of your ideas, the kindness of your heart.” — Cory Booker, Yale University, 5/19/13
Cooperation is key. “Creating cooperation works better than constant conflict and we forget that at our peril. You can’t share the future unless you share the responsibility for building it.” — Bill Clinton, Howard University, 5/11/13
Two others — not on Atkin’s list — worthy of note:
Find a wise person. Be astonished. “…if you seek out genuinely wise friends and mentors, you will receive a whole growing season of advice, a harvest you can store up in your memory and in your heart….Wise people reveal through their lives a kind of deep inner order, a peace, a solidness, and an authenticity….”
“Nourish the capacity for astonishment. Choose a life of surprise. In its absence, we are susceptible to the perilous spell that persuades us we have it all figured out, or will soon… In my experience, such certitude leads to jaded cynicism, a corrosive self-regard, the end of learning, and even, finally, the death of hope. However seemingly logical the journey, you arrive at a desolate country, the polar opposite of wisdom… Don’t go there. And if you do, come back.” — Pete Upham, Asheville School, 5/24/13
Love is not a Justin Bieber song. “We are infatuated in modern times with young love. Our songs and our movies…are about the intoxication of young love. If you are a really lucky teenager, you can be swept off your feet by a Vampire. And these images tell us that early stages of love are not only the peak stages of love but the most thrilling, pure, transcendent times of our life….”
“The older adults I know who have succeeded in love have figured something else out. They have different metrics. It’s less that they have different feelings, than that they interpret those feelings differently. Many of these adults see love not as a preoccupation or infatuation but as having the kind of deep trust and faith that allows them not to think about someone else all the time. In this way, real love enables them to give to those outside their relationship, to be better parents, educators, mentors or generative in other ways.” — Richard Weissbourd, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 5/30/13
And, finally, the pièce de résistance:
Take it all in: success and failure, pleasure and pain.
“I wish you the courage to be warm when the world would prefer that you be cool.
I wish you success sufficient to your needs; I wish you failure to temper that success.
I wish you joy in all your days; I wish you sadness so that you may better measure joy.
I wish you gladness to overbalance grief.
I wish you humor and a twinkle in the eye.
I wish you glory and the strength to bear its burdens.
I wish you sunshine on your path and storms to season your journey.
I wish you peace in the world in which you live and in the smallest corner of the heart where truth is kept.
I wish you faith to help define your living and your life.
More I cannot wish you except perhaps love to make all the rest worthwhile.”
— Robert Ward, Williston Northampton School, 1972-1979, carried forth since that time by other heads to other schools, including Cape Cod Academy and Crossroads College Preparatory School