Graduation Speeches —- Guiding Primciples-Absent Reality

Graduation Speeches —-  Guiding  Primciples-Absent Reality

Reality is often left out of commencement speeches.

It is the season of graduation, which brings in its wake no shortage of life-changing advice for young people. Secondary schools, colleges and universities across the province seemingly compete for the most intriguing speakers, and the most inspiring words of wisdom to be delivered to the graduates, about shooting for the moon, going for the gold, nothing is impossible, yada! yada!. Graduation speakers paint pictures of an unrecognizable world, and usually encourage graduates to see everything possible and tap unbounded possibilities.

In the capacity of a now- retired but nonetheless, lifelong educator, graduation has always held special significance for me. During my years of exposure to academia, I have prepared students for graduation, sat in the audience, listened to speeches and cheered speakers, all the while thinking about their general absence or dearth of transparency. Despite the best intentions of the distinguished speakers, many of the messages are actually in the same narrow elite tunnel that only appeal to a subset of the student population, and all follow a common theme. Oftentimes, I would daydream about whether or not someone would have the unrestrained audacity to transgress the sacred, standard convention of these events. Who would provide a bit of the “real” world yeast that we all know is vitally necessary to inflate and dilate the firm and steadfast optimistic verses of typical graduation speeches? I wonder if the often repeated assertion “Anything is possible if you set your mind to it,” would ever be followed by something like, “and hard work improves your odds”. Follow your dreams! Follow your passions! would be the start of cliche endings such as ” keep focused! “be persistent! ” even if it means pursuing a vocational trade or finding a career path that aligns you with your passion”. One may proffer a bet that many of the graduates have not yet discovered their passion, and that is satisfactory. Instead of advice on following passion, they should instead focus on discovering their passion.

No graduation speech would be complete without addressing a couple of lofty notions; however, it graciously ignores the fact that periodically there should be an inclusion of reality. Now that the expectations that employers and employees have of each other have changed, the graduates need to know as forward they go. What should those starting their careers do to get ahead, and not enter the “real (world) workforce” on “ARRIVAL DEAD”.

Most speakers do their utmost to squeeze out the few pieces of advice that will be meaningful, original, and of some value to the graduates, but the accompanying problem with any graduation speech is that it erroneously assumes that the outcome can be controlled. If you outwork the competition, you will succeed. If you surround yourself with great people, you will be happy. Nevertheless, to really control an outcome one would theoretically have to know what the full set of possibilities are, which of course is impossible. Life is about living with that uncertainty. You just do not know what will happen, what the economy will throw at you, how your interests will (or would not) evolve, and finally not to mention the people that will come in and out of your life.

There are so many variables beyond your control.
Commencement speeches, at best, are guidelines. Or guiding principles.

Aleuta continua — The struggle continues