Commencement Speech Wisdom That Speaks to my 50-year-old Self

Where would you be today if you had remembered - and put into action - all of the advice/cliches/words-of-wisdom from the speech at your graduation?

Chances are, you were moved, touched or motivated by what you heard. Well, of course, you were -- you in you early 20's and on the brink of change - a new chapter!

Credit UNC-Chapel Hill

Credit UNC-Chapel Hill

But do you remember any of it? Do you need to? Probably not - you can find it all on the internet. Well, maybe not your exact speech, but let's admit it - what was said then is the same thing being said now, just in a different context. But, could some of those words of wisdom apply more now than they did then? The same advice and words of wisdom can look very different when viewed from our new lens of perspective. 

I started down this path and Googled the heck out of this topic. I found the transcripts and really read them - not just the highlight reels. I found nuggets that caused my heart to churn and my eyes to blur. 

I've taken liberties and deleted sentences, etc. I'm not trying to highlight the speakers or even the speeches (and certainly am not going to touch on politics), but instead the lessons that matter to me now. Well, at least today. 

  1. Be the best version of you.

  2. Be more empathetic. Give more. Care about others 

  3. You own your relationship with fear - go be in charge. 

  4. Read

What does any of this have to do with hospitality? Well, perhaps it's not as direct as some of the thoughts in PIneapplePonderings, but kindness, empathy, listening - I think those count.

Kindness. Empathy. Listening. I think those count in hospitality.
— Kimberly Sundt

Be the best version of you.

We're old enough to not worry about what others think (let that go!). We don't need others' dreams and plans for our lives - we have our own and we certainly know what the "best version of me" looks like. And if not and you are in my generation, spend some time figuring it out. 

The world is changing; make sure you change with it. But don’t worry about everyone else—if their life is so great, they wouldn’t post pictures of themselves every ten minutes. Shake off your past limitations and be the best version of yourself.” Steven Levitan, UW Madison address

In the end, it is not only what we do but how we do it. Whatever we do, we must act with honesty and with integrity and regardless of your chosen career, you’re only as good as your word." Robert Mueller, Tabor Academy address

Summon your compassion, your curiosity, your empathy towards others and your commitment to service. Give more that you receive and I promise you, it will come back to you in ways you can't possibly imagine. Howard Schultz, Arizona State

No matter how cliché it may sound, you will never truly be successful until you learn to give beyond yourself. Empathy and kindness are the true signs of emotional intelligence.” Will Ferrell, University of Southern California address

Create. Don't wait around for people to give you things to do. If you're a writer, write; artist, paint; builder, build! Opportunities will come to you if you create them. Comedian Max Jobrani, University of California, Berkley address

I don't think Bill Gates actually gave a graduation speech this year, but a friend of mine who knew I was writing this, found a piece he wrote that was shared on LinkedIn. here is just one line.

Meanwhile, I encourage you to surround yourself with people who challenge you, teach you and push you to be your best self. Melinda does that for me, and I am a better person for it. Like our good friend Warren Buffett, I measure my happiness by whether people close to me are happy and love me, and by the difference I make in other people's lives. Bill Gates, letter to graduates

It's my deepest hope that the curiosity that has guided you here continues to be a guiding light in your life. Represent your own curiosities to the world. Keep people moving, keep reading, keep nourishing what makes your voice unique and defend it for yourself and for others. Octavia Spencer, Kent State University address

Care about Others. Give more. Be more empathetic.

When we don’t stand up for the rights of others, eventually we pay the price ourselves. Michael Bloomberg, Villanova University address


I’m not worried about artificial intelligence giving computers the ability to think like humans. I’m more concerned about people thinking like computers without values or compassion, without concern for consequences. That is what we need you to help us guard against. Because if science is a search in the darkness, then the humanities are a candle that shows us where we’ve been and the danger that lies ahead. As Steve [Jobs] once said, technology alone is not enough. It is technology married with the liberal arts married with the humanities that make our hearts sing. When you keep people at the center of what you do, it can have an enormous impact.......In short, it means technology infused with your values, making progress possible for everyone. Tim Cook, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) address

Credit: A vision for the future. (Reuters/Stephen Lam)

Credit: A vision for the future. (Reuters/Stephen Lam)

People are expecting that you won't really listen to them........And when you do, even if you can't you know, solve their problem immediately, they actually become surprised and grateful. Sen. Tim Kane, Virginia Commonwealth University address

David O. Brown, retired Chief of Police in Dallas told a story about how he sat next to the poorest boy on the bus, who was white. Many years later, this boy sent him a letter with a question -- 

So when Lance, who is a Texas Ex, asked, “Why did you sit next me?” it’s because Mike Schulenberg invited me home for dinner. It changed my worldview of race at 11 years old because he was kind, and he was authentic. Now, as complex as our problems seem in this country, and as divided as we are — and it seems there’s just no resolution to our divisiveness — I have a premise: Invite someone home for dinner that doesn’t look like you. David O. Brown, Chief Of Police, Dallas Police Department (ret), University of Texas at Austin address

Third, shut your smartphones off. Turn your computer off. Be out of any social network, discover talking to yourself in time that is elongated and not interrupted by absolutely useless, minute changes in your mood or your relationship with someone. By shutting the machine off, you also burst the bubble of the mirror image of yourself. You only end up talking people who agree with you, people you know, you only get on websites you already agree with, and you shut yourself off from a very important issue, which is how to confront people who think differently, and aren’t like you, and don’t agree, and don't use the same language, or use the same language differently. Dr. Leon Bostein, Goucher College address

I'm loving the phrase, "discover talking to yourself in time that is elongated."

And below, Helen Mirren was telling the story of a lesson she learned while in a cab with an actress who was known the world over - and Dame Mirren learned this lesson in kindness and simply noticing others. 

“She got her cigarettes out and before she lit up, she offered the driver one,” she said. “So simple, but, you know, thoughtful. To her, he wasn’t a ‘driver person,’ but a ‘person person’ who might want a smoke.” Every single person, whether they have dominion over your life or not, deserves equal respect and generosity, Mirren said.

You're in charge of the fear

Don't be afraid of fear.......... But for the moments when you are challenged by other fears – like “Am I good enough?” “Am I smart enough?” “Will I fail?” – throw caution to the winds, look fear straight-away in its ugly face, and barge forward. And when you get past it, turn around and give it a good swift kick in the ass. Helen Mirren, Tulane address

In his (President Roosevelt's) mind, the credit belongs to people who actually do things, people who -- and I'm quoting him again – “at best know the triumph of high achievement and who, at worst, fail while daring greatly.” And his last line about that person who dares greatly, it's a good one. Their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, George Washington University address

Keep Reading - Or Start! 

You must not stop reading books.  That's all.  If you seek a happy and interesting life, one of depth,  meaning and accomplishment, you must read books...... I am becoming an evangelist for reading books, especially history and poetry but novels too, fiction or non-fiction, whatever you're drawn to.  But try to be open to a lot -- let life summon you through books, be open to its summoning.

Does any of these thoughts take you down a path of more thought? The wonderful news at age 50 is, we have so much to learn AND we are poised and ready to put it into practice now, rather than waiting 30 more years. 

I'm sure it's obvious that I was quite the fan of Helen Mirren's entire speech. So, here it is, just in case you need a bit more inspiration. And my favorite quote:

“Whether you’re in the French Quarter or the Oval Office, no good can ever come from tweeting at 3 a.m.”
— Helen Mirren