Words of advice for graduating seniors

With graduation season under way, what advice would you give students if you had the responsibility of being a commencement speaker?

I considered that question this week and turned to National Public Radio, where at its website you can listen to 300 of the “best of the best” commencement addresses as determined by NPR staff. I have included a few highlights from some for you and I to consider this morning.

“Your rising from bed every morning will give fear its chance to grow stronger just as it will afford faith its chance to blossom.” This was part of actor Tom Hanks’ address to Yale University students in 2011.

I like how Hanks deals with the fact that all of us have choices. All of us are forced to make choices constantly each day. Some are easy – what clothes to wear, what to have to eat. Others are much harder – where do I turn next for help with this problem or how do I improve this relationship I’m in.

I believe Hanks pegs it well with his observation of fear vs. faith setting the tone regarding the choices we will face each day. Will it be fear that cripples our soul and paralyzes our actions, or faith that propels us forward, even when we don’t know what lies ahead?

In 2008 Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling addressed the graduating seniors at Harvard with some advice that is both practical and inspirational.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

I appreciate her advice for failure is an option sometimes. I would rather go through life trying, and sometimes failing, than the alternative. As long as we learn from our mistakes and don’t repeat them, failing is very much an acceptable and valuable lesson of life.

Drawing from his own life’s experiences, Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel told students at Dartmouth in 2006 that “I have learned that learning is a passion that must not diminish with years. That applies to memory as well. It needs to be shared, lest it remains stifled, icy, silent.”

While sometimes that learning and memory can be painful, it must not be forgotten. Imagine had Wiesel, a prisoner of war at the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, chosen to ignore or blot out those memories. His bestseller “Night” is a haunting recollection of life from those days of the Holocaust and concentration camps.

If there is but one truth I personally could pass on to graduating seniors it would be similar to Wiesel’s – to learn from memories, to learn from the past. Over time I have discovered that the best way to see what the future holds is to look back to the past, and learn well from the lessons that exist there.

Finally, I finish with these words of wisdom from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She was the commencement speaker at Wellesley College in 2007.

“We might have the right intentions, but instead of acting, we decide to wait. We keep waiting until we run out of ‘untils.’ Then it is too late.”

I would encourage graduating seniors to not fill up the rest of their lives with “untils.” Instead, grasp hold of the moment, climb that mountain, soar for the clouds and act, not wait. Don’t look back on a life of regrets. Rather, embrace each decision as if it were your last. Go for the gusto and never doubt the path you’ve chosen.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.” ~ Robert Frost

Bill Speer can be reached via email at bspeer@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 354-3111 ext. 331. Follow Bill on Twitter @billspeer13. Read his blog, More BS?(Bill Speer) at www.thealpenanews.com.