The month of May is a month of wisdom. Hundreds of scientists, politicians, coaches, actors, writers and policymakers amble across the stage at countless numbers of commencements and deliver hair raising, riveting speeches to wide-eyed 22-year olds. Up until this point, this is about the only time you’re going to get the undivided attention of thousands of “kids.” And let’s be honest…these are truly kids, staring the future right in the face but having no clue as to what’s next.
After spending the better part of two weeks combing through commencement addresses, journalists and bloggers’ words of advice and others commentary on these speeches, I have selected words of advice that resonated with me. With that, I give you eight snippets of wisdom, from various speakers of different ages, professions and backgrounds. I hope you enjoy this compilation.
Words of advice from the journalists and bloggers…
Stephens: To the Class of 2012: Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, May 7, 2012
Many of you have been reared on the cliché that the purpose of education isn’t to stuff your head with facts but to teach you how to think. Wrong. I routinely interview college students, mostly from top schools, and I notice that their brains are like old maps, with lots of blank spaces for the uncharted terrain. It’s not that they lack for motivation or IQ. It’s that they can’t connect the dots when they don’t know where the dots are in the first place.
10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You: Charles Weelan, Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2012
Don’t make the world worse. I know that I’m supposed to tell you to aspire to great things. But I’m going to lower the bar here: Just don’t use your prodigious talents to mess things up. Too many smart people are doing that already. And if you really want to cause social mayhem, it helps to have an Ivy League degree. You are smart and motivated and creative. Everyone will tell you that you can change the world. They are right, but remember that “changing the world” also can include things like skirting financial regulations and selling unhealthy foods to increasingly obese children. I am not asking you to cure cancer. I am just asking you not to spread it.
Don’t let your life revolve around weekends. If you do, you’ll only be living 28% of your life. If you are dragging yourself from Monday through Friday just to drink into oblivion on the weekend: rethink things. Live your life so that every day matters, so that every day is worth remembering. If that means finding a job you care about, start searching. If that means traveling the world, start saving. Just do something: apathy will lead you nowhere.
Sleep under the stars. Spend time in nature: away from the internet, away from your iPhone, away from the noise of everyday life. Go for a hike, watch a butterfly, swim in a creek. Pay attention to the details that are lost in a world of concrete: the whisper of a breeze through the trees, the constant motion of a field of grass. The sun rises and sets every day: when’s the last time you truly appreciated one?
Don’t spend money you don’t have. “I am happy as long as I’m healthy, and rich as long as I don’t have debt,” a hippie on the beach in Vietnam once told me. Stop buying rounds of drinks and start paying off your loans and credit cards. Spend your money on memories that will last a lifetime, not a designer bag that will be out of fashion next season. Do the math, and don’t live beyond your means.
Now on to the Commencement addresses…
Dom Capers, Green Bay Packers Defensive Coordinator, University of Mount Union (Ohio), May 5, 2012 (Quote from Sports Illustrated)
I’d like to discuss surviving success. In my mind, this is the toughest thing anyone has to deal with. We all know we have to pay a high price, no matter what the process is, to be successful. One of my favorite quotes is this: ‘For every 10 people who can handle adversity, there is only one who can handle success.’ The downside of success is like a virus. It is insidious. It’s the master of the sneak attack. No matter where you are in your career, the worst thing is to feel like you have arrived. There’s someone out there willing to do the little things, ready to take your job.
Ted Koppel, newsman, University of Massachusetts, May 12, 2012 (Quote from Sports Illustrated)
More than ever before, we live today in a world of instant reaction, constant judgment and corrosive partisanship. Political debate is a wonderful thing; but partisan shrieking is corrosive and destructive. If we are to find solutions to the challenges we face, we have to relearn the virtues of compromise. If we are going to deal intelligently with the problems we confront, we need time to pause, to consider and reflect. But our media, news and social, are intolerant of anything but an instant response … Rather than using information to illuminate the world, though, we consume it like fuel. The more we burn, the faster we go. The faster we go, the less we see and understand. We slow down only for the accidents along the side of the road; and the biggest accident still lies ahead.
Only, I fear, when that occurs — only when the combined impact of too many unemployed, too many foreclosures, too much debt, exacerbated by two undeclared and unfunded wars; only when the human and social costs of a crumbling education system and a flawed health care system, leave us wondering where and why we lost our footing as a nation, will we come to realize that WHAT is communicated to us is vastly more important than the medium by which it is conveyed.
… One day, most Americans will point at us in the news media and say: “Why didn’t you tell us? Why did you encourage all that bile and venom? Why did you feed us all that trivial crap, when so many terrible things were converging? And no one will be happy with the answer. Least of all, those of us who offer it. “What we gave you,” we will say, “is what you wanted.”
At this critical juncture in your lives, then, let me urge you — no, let me implore you to want more. More substance, more real information about important issues, more fairness, more objectivity, more tolerance for views that differ from your own. You have a truly magical array of media at your disposal. Use them well.
Aaron Sorkin, Syracuse University, May 13, 2012
Rehearsal’s over. You’re going out there now, you’re going to do this thing. How you live matters. You’re going to fall down, but the world doesn’t care how many times you fall down, as long as it’s one fewer than the number of times you get back up.
What were your favorite nuggets of advice delivered during this month of wisdom? Which of the above do you identify with most? Please share your thoughts and favorites below in the Comments section.