I have never delivered a commencement address, but if offered that honor, here are a few things I might say:
Congratulations. When we’re done here, thank all of those who invested in your exploration of knowledge and self.
Fear not, graduates. I will speak briefly, sharing some of what I’ve learned since sitting where you sit now, and in a year’s time you’ll remember little, if any, of what I say.
You will never be smarter than you are today. From here on out, you will be confronted by – and, hopefully, appreciate – the magnitude of what you do not know.
By the way, after “I love you,” perhaps the three most important words in the English language are “I don’t know.”
The world you live in today is a known quantity. You cannot imagine the world a few decades from now.
Growing up at a time when humankind began to extend its reach beyond earth’s grasp, the promise of space flight for average Americans fueled our imaginations. Sometimes things take longer than you expect.
You won’t recognize some changes as they happen. That awareness comes with time.
When your elders say that life seems to pass in the blink of an eye, understand that they are trying to make sense of all they have experienced, as they see fewer tomorrows than yesterdays and seek to make the most of today.
You will marvel at the speed of technological changes and lament that the human condition improves at a slower pace.
When I was in college, the campus computer was a bulky machine that used punch cards. Today I carry a device that gives me access to an astonishing and ever-expanding variety of information.
Technology to your generation, as it was to those who came before you, is a tool, with the capability to build or to tear down.
Today you can offer your opinion to the universe and receive nearly instantaneous recognition, praise or condemnation. Maybe there was something better about a past without the ability to share every thought, every impulse, but that’s not the world we live in.
When I entered college, this nation was embroiled in a war several thousand miles away, a conflict that cost tens of thousands of young American lives and sent tens of thousands to the barricades in protest.
As you graduate college, the country is embroiled in a war several thousand miles away, but because of the divide between the civilian world and the military, that conflict is out-of-sight and out-of-mind for most people.
There is a line in the 1967 film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” in which a priest, a friend of parents whose daughter plans to marry someone of a different race, tells her father, “They are this country. They’ll change this stinking world.” The father replies, “Yeah sure. Fifty years, maybe, or a hundred years.”
Fifty years later, I look at the diversity of my children’s friends and the ease with which they relate to each other, not as if there are no differences, but appreciating those differences while minimizing them as obstacles.
We feed our children on our dreams and notice the pieces of us that they adopt as their own. Our children feed us on their dreams and notice the pieces that most excite us.
I told you that I would speak briefly and I am nearly done.
Some of you took longer than others to reach this day. Take pride in having overcome obstacles that once may have appeared insurmountable.
For all of you, for all of us, the most valuable lesson is that the journey is less important than what you learn about yourself along the way.
The following is no less true just because it is quoted on wall hangings and throw pillows: “Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
I leave you with this advice:
Value friends who believe in your dreams, and believe in theirs.
If it is your path, find a partner who inspires you to be the best version of yourself.
Work is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
Find a life outside of work that enriches you.
Find a corner of life’s garden and make it your own.