The Commencement Address I Wish I’d Heard

With graduation season upon us, I think back to the commencement speech at my college graduation, over two decades ago. Tom Brokaw, the network newscaster, was the speaker and the only thing I recall he said was, “It’s easy to make a buck. It’s tough to make a difference.”

I wish that was all he said. Commencement speeches are always too long. You’re sitting there in that gown with that stupid hat on. You’ve already spent four long years listening to lectures on how and what to do. You want to go eat an overpriced meal with your parents and assure them that now you have graduated magna cum laude, your life will be perfect. Oh, how I wish that were true. Here are some of the things I wish I’d heard in my commencement speech – the gems that, if I’d appreciated them, might have changed my 20 years of misadventures as a golden girl gone bad:

The Commencement Address I Wish I’d HeardBeing smart is not enough. Intelligence is great, but you’ll do better if you concentrate on working hard, being easy to work with, making and nurturing connections and acknowledging that elusive thing called luck. Who cares how great your work is if nobody sees it? You need to get in the door. So be nice to the doorman.

How you react to things will determine your happiness more than what actually happens.   There’s what occurs and then there’s what you make it mean. Don’t let life break you or make you bitter. It’s the grit of sand in your shell that forces you to make the pearl. You can’t be brave and strong and compassionate if you’ve only had good things happen to you. Remember: Bad experiences make great stories.

Don’t future trip. As hard as it can be, do what you can to stay in the moment. Don’t have “conversations” with people who aren’t actually in the room. Half of what you worry about will never happen. And most of what will happen you will never have anticipated.

Don’t take rejection (whether in romance or business) personally. People are being who they are and you just happen to be in the way. Maybe you remind them of their horrible mother-in-law. Maybe they didn’t like your perfume. Who cares! As Dita Von Teese says, “You can be the ripest peach in the world and there will always be somebody who doesn’t like peaches.”

Everybody is faking it. Nobody knows what they are doing and no one has the secret manual, not even the best-selling guru. So be bold, take chances, make choices. (Not choosing is making a choice, by the way.)

If you’re in a creative field, don’t pay attention to reviews or comments on your work. Listening to the naysayers will either make you kowtow to what other people want or become afraid to speak your truth. What anybody thinks of you is none of your business. Unless, of course, the critic happens to be someone you respect, or the one paying your bills.

At the time I was impressed with Brokaw’s speech, until a few years later when I read an article that had quotes from the year’s best commencement speeches and there he was, saying the same thing. Apparently it was too easy to make a buck and too tough to do anything different.

So last rule: Famous people are often famously bad examples. Fortunately for you, I’m not that famous yet.

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