It’s that time of the year – grad season – where the relief of finishing something leads to ceremonies and celebrations. I’ve been watching (or rewatching) some graduation commencement speeches. I’ve always thought that the advice in them is generally applicable through life, not just the first few years after somewhat graduates. In fact, most of the stories and wisdoms shared happened over years or decades even. Here are my top 3 and some of the best advice in them [with apologies to T Swift].
Number 3 – Steve Jobs, Stanford – Steve Jobs, arguably one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time, tells some amazing stories about things that shaped who he became. He dropped out of college because of the financial toll it was taking on his parents. That gave him the chance to take random classes with no focus on a major nor prescribed curriculum. He talked about taking a calligraphy class and how that later served him when designing fonts for the Mac. He also talked about failure – about how getting fired from Apple made him better. Lastly, a great point he made was essentially about not listening to the knaves, the naysayers, and the haters – it’s your life.
Number 2 – Admiral McCraven, University of Texas – This was a great speech from a former Navy seal. There was a certain amount of self-deprecating humor to it [“I remember graduation and the ceremony but don’t remember who made the commencement speech so I’ll make this short”]. It was also really pragmatic and he gave 10 pieces of advice he learned from being a seal. The top 5 in short were: 1. Start the day out making your bed, if you get the little things right and do something positive you set the tone for the day. 2. Find someone to help you paddle [your raft]. You need a team, a squad, a tribe. 3. Gauge people by the size of their heart, not their flippers. Heart is the intangible that often matters most and yet has no deterministic way to be measured. 4. Keep pushing forward. Bad days are inevitable, push through, dust yourself off and look forward to tomorrow. 5. Do the extra work. Drive and tenacity are a byproduct of heart and they’ll serve you well.
Number 1 – Conan O’Brien, Dartmouth – Conan starts out with some hilarious takes on college life, the ivy league rivalries and even jokes that the Dean has accomplished so much he must be overcompensating for something? Not surprising that he’s funny – that’s his forte. But what made his speech great was how real he got about failing, about finally landing the job of his dreams (the Tonight Show) only to have the carpet yanked out from under him when Jay Leno came back. Perhaps more than anything, perseverance is a trait needed to succeed and he gives a really vulnerable talk into how he turned his lemons into lemonade.
P.S. – Shout out to my daughter McKenzie for finishing at USF this May! Congrats Dolly, grab the holeshot and never look back!