Graduation season is upon us as the newly minted graduates are throwing their caps in the air and moving on to their next adventure. This month I attended my nephew’s Penn State graduation and will travel back to Pennsylvania to see my niece graduate from high school this week. It brings me great joy to see this generation of young leaders moving to the next step toward achieving their goals. The wisdom being shared with graduates in commencement speeches across the country is energizing. Here are five quotes from 2016 commencement addresses that not only inspire new graduates, but also leaders at any level.
Sheryl Sandberg, UC Berkley on May 14: “And when the challenges come, I hope you remember that anchored deep within you is the ability to learn and grow. You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are — and you just might become the very best version of yourself.” Full address here.
Barack Obama, Rutgers University on May 15: “Gear yourself for the long haul. Whatever path you choose—business, nonprofits, government, education, health care, the arts—whatever it is, you’re going to have some setbacks. You will deal occasionally with foolish people. You will be frustrated. You’ll have a boss that’s not great. You won’t always get everything you want—at least not as fast as you want it. So you have to stick with it. You have to be persistent. And success, however small, however incomplete, success is still success. I always tell my daughters, you know, better is good. It may not be perfect, it may not be great, but it’s good. That’s how progress happens—in societies and in our own lives.” Full address here.
Michael Bloomberg, University of Michigan on April 30: “The most important knowledge that you will leave here today with, like the importance of teamwork, has nothing to do with your major,” Bloomberg said. “It is about how to study, how to cooperate, how to listen carefully, how to think critically, and how to resolve conflicts through reason. In other words, it is working with others. Those are the most important skills in the working world, and it’s why colleges have always exposed students to challenging and uncomfortable ideas.” Full address here.
Condoleezza Rice, High Point University on May 7: “It’s possible today to live in an echo chamber that serves only to reinforce your own high opinion of yourself and what you think. That is a temptation that educated people must reject. There is nothing wrong with holding an opinion and holding it strongly. But at times when you are sure that you’re absolutely right, go and find somebody who disagrees. Don’t allow yourself the easy course of the constant amen to everything that you say.” Full address here.
Madeleine Albright, Scripps College on May 14: “Above all, I ask you to understand that there is an enormous difference between entering into an argument for the purpose of proving how smart you already are – and engaging in research and discussion for the purpose of stretching your mind and giving free rein to your conscience. One path may earn you a reputation for brilliance; but the other will lead you toward wisdom. In saying all this, I am not conceding that all truth is relative or that every point of view is equal in merit. On the contrary, I am proposing that we place our greatest faith in principles that have proven themselves through decades of testing and struggle.” Full address here.