Annual words of wisdom



I love listening to commencement speeches, but quickly forget about them and how much I enjoy hearing them – a year between speeches is just too long!

Thankfully, my friend Dao reminded me. She sent me Conan’s recent speech at Dartmouth last week, which led me to Stephen Colbert’s at Northwestern and then to Amy Poehler’s at Harvard. ( I listened to Amy’s again and again as I was writing this post.)

Here are my favorite quotes from each:

Conan . . . (I agree with Dao’s favorite quotes)

“It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention…no specific job or career goal defines me and it should not define you…in 2000 I told graduates to not be afraid to fail and I still believe that, but today I tell you that whether you fear or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.”

In 2000, I told graduates to not be afraid to fail, and I still believe that.  But today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come.  The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.”

 Colbert . . .

“you are not the most important person in the scene [improv], everybody else is, and if everybody else is more important than you are, you will naturally pay attention to them and serve them. But the good news is, you’re in the scene too, so hopefully to them you’re the most important person and they will serve you. No one is leading, you are all following the follower, serving the servant. You cannot win  improv.  And, life is an improvisation.” 

” . . . service is love made visible.” If you love your friends, you will serve your friends. If you love community, you will serve community. If you love money, you will serve your money, and if you love only yourself, you will serve only yourself, and you will have only yourself . . . Try to love others and serve others, and hopefully find those who will love and serve yu in return.”

Amy . . . 

“You can’t do it alone. As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you. Spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” 

And, about improv, “If you’re scared, look into your partner’s eyes, you’ll feel better.” (I don’t think we look into each other’s eyes enough.)

Want more? Here are David Schepp’s Top 12 “of  All Time” commencement speeches. Schepp is a long time business journalist with a funny bone as evidence by some of his choices. I really enjoyed Bono’s, JK Rowlings and Churchill’s. If these aren’t for you, keep searching – there are tons of choices on the web.

A year ago, I wrote about another commencement speech and shared what I would tell a graduating class, “What would you tell them? 

Have a great weekend and live your life as though you’re writing the commencement speech you would like to share with the “next generation”.

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