I’ve been to a lot of graduation ceremonies in my lifetime and I’m sure I’ll be attending many more before I die. I’ve heard dozens of graduation speakers offer their advice and vision for the bright futures of the graduates. I’ve tried to listen attentively to each talk but mostly I’m secretly hoping the speaker will be brief because there are hundreds of candidates waiting to walk across the stage to receive their degree.
There has been a few times when I’ve wondered what I would say if I was the guest orator. I mull around in my mind the few concise words that capture what I believe creates a meaningful life. For a few moments I look more intimately at my personal journey and the journey of countess others I’ve observed over a life time. Then I try to make sense of it all and formulate a few sentences that capture what really matters after the pomp and circumstance are over and we all go home.
Bill Cosby, a famous comedian, once addressed a graduation with these few words. He walked to the podium, took a deep breath and said, “Get a job.” That comment brought the house down. When the audience quieted he said a second time, “Get a job.” The audience was really listening when he leaned into the microphone the third and final time and said, “Your parents have done enough. Now get a job.”
No one hands parents a diploma when they send a child off into the world after twenty something years of labor and love. No one hands a devoted husband or wife a diploma after they’ve nursed their spouse through cancer. No one hands an ordinary breadwinner a diploma after they’ve gone to work every day for thirty years to support their family. We never get a diploma for the most important things we do with our life.
So, this is what I’d say if I were the graduation speaker.
“Congratulations graduates. You have accomplished a wonderful goal. But remember this opportunity was made possible because millions of common ordinary people are willing to pay for your teachers and your educational institution with their hard earned tax dollars. You have been a taker. Now it is your turn to be a giver.
You might desire to do great and noble things for society or to become rich or well-known but your conduct at home with the people closest to you will be the final summation of your life. Look into the faces of the people who sit around your dinner table. Your love and sacrifice for those people is the most important contribution you will ever make.
If your career, leisure or prestige becomes more important than your spouse or your son or your daughter, you lose your greatest power to influence the world for good. Don’t give away your power for a mess of pottage. Create a loving home. Everything good follows.”