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I’m a sucker for a good graduation speech. I mean, you have to sit through the service anyway. You might as well get a little inspiration. I remember the good speeches. And then, I remember hating certain speeches, though I can’t recall anything about them.
The address I heard last night—-at a family member’s graduation—-will surely fall into the later category. Dear lord, the speaker was awful. A few of his words of wisdom: “Avoid the herd mentality,” “Keep asking tough questions,” “Don’t look the other way in the face of injustic,” “True patriots are those that ask hard questions.” Can you tell this man was a politician? (After a while, I started writing down his litany of banal instructions.)
A family member told me not to blog about the speaker by name. But, as my attention began to wander, I couldn’t help but think: for god sakes, this suffering is unnecessary. I’d experienced both ends of the spectrum. There is a simple formula to use to ensure people will not hate you for prolonging their time sitting in uncomfortable chairs. Here are some tips:
(1) You’re sharing one life lesson. That’s it. Pick anything. Smaller tangential points are allowed, but only if they relate to the main message. Stated concisely, the thrust of your speech should be able to fit onto a fortune cookie. Take for example some memorable ones I’ve heard:
-When you’re young, you can’t bring experience to the table. So, just be more prepared that everyone else.
-Learn as many languages as you can. Travel a lot. And embrace other cultures. This will enrich your life and your career too!
-Don’t worry too much about fitting in. Eventually, you’ll find people that respect you.
(2) You’re going to want to tell at least one long story about yourself. This is called the “When I failed” part of the speech—or the “When I did something stupid” part or, possibly, the “When I felt like an idiot” part. The point is: you’re the graduation speaker! Clearly you rose above your failure/stupidity/idiocy. Say something personal, and don’t be disingenuous. My college graduation speaker was a Forbes 400, famous Silicon Valley venture capitalist. Yet, he instructed us to always place family over career—as he’d neglected to do in his professional life. Yeah, easy to say after you’ve made your first billion, and have no college loans to pay off.
(3) Keep it short and funny. Try not to use predictable quotes.