I just completed a week where I spent 8 hours sitting through commencement ceremonies.
That’s not a typo.
I also heard —— several times —— the clarion call to graduates, the charge to “change the world”, “make a difference”, and other such nonsense. It got me thinking. What advice would I want to give to this year’s high school and college graduates? Join me as I indulge this fantasy (and feel free to share your own thoughts for 2017 graduates!)…
‘Congratulations graduates, school’s out! You’re done! Finished! It’s over. That feels good right? I hope it does. It should.
But that piece of paper you are about to receive is not like a driver’s license; it doesn’t tell the world you are a “fully qualified” anything! Nor does it mean you are done with books and research. It is merely a token that represents your effort in school; you know, your effort as you followed directions and jumped through a series of hoops. Whether your path to graduation was a joyous thrill, a mundane task, or a painful challenge, you graduated. You have done what others did not do, and now you will have opportunities that others may not have. Be proud of your accomplishment; acknowledge it, and look forward to the new opportunities that await you.
Speaking of opportunities…you’ve spent a major portion of your young lives in school (about 18% of your waking hours so far). You may think that all of this schooling was preparing you for a productive career in your chosen field. But, as you will soon find out (when you start working) you actually know very little about how to be productive in your chosen field (sorry to break it to you). The fact is, there’s still an awful lot that can only be learned from real world experience —— weeks, months and YEARS of on-the-ground, real time, face to face experience. What you have gained is the skills and ability to learn. And this will come in handy, because where ever you go from here, you will be a freshman again. You haven’t finished; you’ve just begun.
Your first year or two of work will show you how much you still have to learn —— both on the job and in the world. There are countries and continents you haven’t seen. There’s technology being developed every day that will challenge you (and trust me, it gets more confusing as you mature). Your interests and opportunities will likely change as the years go by. And so you need to keep reading, listening to, and discussing ideas with, folks smarter than you. Lifelong learning is one of the keys to having a really fun and fulfilling life. So keep beginning, and keep learning!
And remember: no journey is a solo endeavor. Great achievements in life are rarely accomplished without a lot of help. Your instructors, study partners, parents, and community all helped you get this far. They fed and clothed you, they taught and listened to you, they gave you feedback and advice; you learned from them.
And they learned from you. They grew stronger because you were in their lives too. That’s how communities work. We’re safer, we have more resources, and we can achieve more when we are part of a “tribe”.
Wherever you go and whatever you do, it’s important you do it as part of a tribe —— a team, a family, a work group. I’ve heard it said, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
But to be a part of a community, a tribe, a family, or a workgroup also involves giving some things up. It has a cost. We may need to conform to the group’s way of doing things, like their way of dressing or speaking. It might mean that we just accept some things we don’t understand; trusting that there’s a reason that the group does them this way. In short, you will lose some part of your individuality in order to be accepted and productive in a bigger group.
So find yourself a mastermind group, a mentor, a church or community group, and get involved. Be a part of something that’s bigger than you; and be willing to give up a little bit of your individuality in order to commit to the tribe that can take you farther.
The invitation I’m putting before you today is not about “changing the world”, or even about celebrating the great things you’ve accomplished. Today’s invitation is about recognizing and acknowledging the shift in your role. Your role is no longer to jump through hoops and perform to the expectations of your investors. Your role is manage that investment. Apply yourself and your skill of learning in the context of community. No small task. But if you give yourself to it, your contribution will be significant, no matter how big or small it seems (there are no small parts, only small actors).
You want to learn how to be good at your job——and at life——because there are people out there who really need what you have to give. You’ve learned how to learn; now it’s time to learn how to be productive. So roll up your sleeves and get to work. Welcome. We’ve been waiting for you. We’re so glad you’re here.’
What would you like to say to today’s graduates?