• Prose and Purpose

    After 25 years on the job, a former provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.


Commencement Remarks

In addition to serving as Provost, I also have the privilege of serving as president of my local school board. As president, I get to deliver a brief commencement address and hand the students their diplomas.

June 28, 2015

In addition to serving as Provost, I also have the privilege of serving as president of my local school board. I am very invested in public K-12 education and feel we should all do what we can to enhance the educational experiences of our future leaders.

As president, I get to deliver a brief commencement address and hand the students their diplomas. These are the remarks that I delivered this year:

Class of 2015, on behalf of the Board of Education, congratulations on your graduation. You have completed an important milestone and we are enormously proud of you.

Over the years, I have learned a lot about commencement ceremonies. Having attended more than 200 such ceremonies in total in my career (to date ) and having been master of ceremonies for 150 of those ceremonies, I have learned the secret about these ceremonies which I will now pass on to you.

“Here’s the secret…” Commencement speeches come in two primary flavors: "Passing the Buck” and “Take My Advice.”

The “Passing the Buck” speeches conclude that your generation should do better than our generation and that we have left many, many problems for you to resolve. These speeches first list the serious problems left unsolved: ongoing wars, poverty, global warming, pollution, and discrimination. They also list the unresolved not-so-serious problems, such as the over-abundance of often underdressed Kardashians. There is no question that my generation should spend less time telling you what we didn’t do and more time doing what needs to be done.

The “Take My Advice” speeches consist of the speaker trying to give you too much advice on what you should do. The advice is blended like chocolate chips into the secrets of their success. The speaker’s success is often based on a world that existed when they were young but may no longer exist. The speaker concludes by saying that you should take his or her advice, even if it isn’t relevant.

Therefore, not surprisingly, in 99% of the ceremonies, the speeches don’t matter. That’s because you’re here for yourself, your friends, and your family – not for the speaker’s words of wisdom. The chances that you’ll remember a commencement address even a few years down the road is pretty low – about the same as the chance that you will remember what you ate on that graduation day.

So what can I say that will matter to you? 

My brief message is to remember to say thanks.

Say thanks to your family, to your loved ones, and to your friends for their support and for always being there. When the time comes, make sure you are there for others as well! For me, support and kindness go hand in hand. Times change, but support and kindness are always in fashion and always appropriate.

Say thanks to your teachers and administrators for providing a first-rate education. You can be proud of your high school education. We have prepared you well.

Remember that we are all the product of those individuals who have influenced us growing up. Your family and your teachers have been pivotal in your development.

Say thanks to our armed forces and to all those people who have and continue to support our democracy. Our system isn’t perfect; it’s just the best alternative.

Say thanks to yourself for what you have accomplished to date and what you will accomplish in the future. Past performance is the best predictor of future performance, but not the only predictor. If you have done well, keep it up. If not, make that mid-course correction that makes a difference. Now is the time. I was not a hard-working high school student, but I woke up in college and it certainly made all the difference. Educational accomplishment helps assure personal and financial well-being. It is an important investment in yourself.

In conclusion, there is no need to remember what I said, or what you had to eat today. Just say thanks for those jobs you have done well up to now and for those you will accomplish in the future. Say thanks to those who have made and will continue to make that positive difference in your life. Always be kind. And remember that you too should strive to make a difference. Congratulations and thanks!

The opinions expressed are soley those of the author.




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