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Commencement 2011

posted Jun 2, 2011, 7:00 AM by K Day
Everyone can use a little inspiration from time to time but graduates facing an uncertain future need it even more. Sometimes we all need a little reminder that the possibilities are endless. Below is a bit of advice that was shared with the graduating classes of 2011.

Tom Brokaw, University of Montana, 2011: We may not have given you a perfect world, but we have given you dynamic opportunities for leaving a lasting legacy as a generation fearless and imaginative, tireless and selfless in pursuit of solutions to these monumental problems, a generation that emerged from this financial tsunami and rebuilt the landscape of their lives with an underpinning of sound values and an eye for proportion, knowing, in fact, that less can be more. It will not be easy, but I can promise you it will be rewarding in ways that a Wall Street bonus or a shot on American Idolcannot compete.

So where to begin? … It will be the most rewarding if it is rooted in personal passion and carried out with purpose, even when the first steps are small. You have an assortment of nimble and powerful tools that can assist you, and the Internet, with its vast universe of information and a capacity for research and communications playing out on ever-smaller devices across an ever-widening spectrum of choices. But those are tools; they're not oracles. They complement your mind and your heart, but they do not replace them.

Tom Hanks, Yale, 2011: The early American naval commander John Paul Jones said, “If fear is cultivated, it will become stronger. If faith is cultivated, it will achieve mastery.”… For I take that fear to be fear in the large scale, fear itself, intimidating and constant. And I take faith to be what we hold in ourselves, our American ideal of self determination.

Fear is whispered in our ears and shouted in our faces. Faith must be fostered by the man or woman you see every day in the mirror. The former forever snaps at our heels and our synapses and delays our course. The latter can spur our boot heels to be wandering, stimulate our creativity, and drive us forward. Fear or faith: which will be our master?

Meryl Streep, Barnard, 2010: I know I was invited here because of how famous I am. And how many awards I've won, and while I am overweeningly proud of the work that, believe me, I did not do on my own, I can assure that awards have very little bearing on my own personal happiness, my own sense of well-being and purpose in the world. That comes from studying the world feelingly, with empathy in my work. It comes from staying alert and alive and involved in the lives of the people that I love and the people in the wider world who need my help …

You know you don't have to be famous. You just have to make your mother and father proud of you, and you already have.

President Barack Obama, University of Michigan, 2010: This democracy we have is a precious thing. For all the arguments and all the doubts and all the cynicism that's out there today, we should never forget that as Americans, we enjoy more freedoms and opportunities than citizens in any other nation on Earth. We are free to speak our mind and worship as we please; to choose our leaders and criticize them if they let us down. We have the chance to get an education, work hard, and give our children a better life.

None of this came easy … America's success has never been a given. Our nation's destiny has never been certain. What is certain — what has always been certain — is our ability to shape that destiny … That is what makes us American — our ability at the end of the day to look past all of our differences and all of our disagreements and still forge a common future. That task is now in your hands…

If you are as willing, as past generations were willing, to contribute part of your life to the life of this country, then I, like President Kennedy, still believe we can.

Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane, 2009: My idea of success is different today. And as you grow, you’ll realize the definition of success changes. For many of you, today, success is being able to hold down 20 shots of tequila. For me, the most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity, and not to give in to peer pressure. To try to be something that you’re not. To live your life as an honest and compassionate person. To contribute in some way.

So to conclude my conclusion: Follow your passion, stay true to yourself. Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path, and by all means you should follow that. Don’t give advice, it will come back and bite you in the ass. Don’t take anyone’s advice. So my advice to you is to be true to yourself and everything will be fine.

Bill Gates, Harvard, 2007: My mother, who was filled with pride the day I was admitted here, never stopped pressing me to do more for others. A few days before my wedding, she hosted a bridal event, at which she read aloud a letter about marriage that she had written to Melinda. My mother was very ill with cancer at the time, but she saw one more opportunity to deliver her message, and at the close of the letter she said: From those to whom much is given, much is expected …

… You graduates are coming of age in an amazing time … you have technology that members of my class never had. You have awareness of global inequity, which we did not have. And with that awareness, you likely also have an informed conscience that will torment you if you abandon these people whose lives you could change with very little effort. You have more than we had; you must start sooner, and carry on longer.

Stephen Colbert, Knox College, 2006: If someone does offer you a job, say yes. You can always quit later. Then at least you'll be one of the unemployed as opposed to one of the never-employed. Nothing looks worse on a resume than nothing. So, say "yes." In fact, say "yes" as often as you can.

When I was starting out in Chicago, doing improvisational theatre with Second City and other places, there was really only one rule I was taught about improv. That was, "yes-and." In this case, "yes-and" is a verb. To "yes-and." Yes-anding means that … you have to accept what the other improviser initiates on stage … so that you can agree and add to it …

Well, you are about to start the greatest improvisation of all. With no script. No idea what's going to happen, often with people and places you have never seen before. And you are not in control. So say "yes." And if you're lucky, you'll find people who will say "yes" back.”

Steve Jobs, Stanford, 2005: About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes…

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life … Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Bono, University of Pennsylvania, 2004: I saw something in the paper last week about Kermit the Frog giving a commencement address somewhere. One of the students was complaining, ‘I worked my ass off for four years to be addressed by a sock?’ You have worked your ass off for this. For four years you've been buying, trading, and selling everything you've got in this marketplace of ideas. The intellectual hustle. Your pockets are full, even if your parents' are empty, and now you've got to figure out what to spend it on.

Well, the going rate for change is not cheap. Big ideas are expensive … So my question. I suppose, is: What's the big idea? What's yourbig idea? What are you willing to spend your moral capital, your intellectual capital, your cash, your sweat equity in pursuing outside of the walls of the University of Pennsylvania?