Words of wisdom from 2016 commencement addresses
By NBP Staff | June 20, 2016, 10:45 EST
As graduation season comes to a close, we bring you some highlights of a few of our favorite commencement addresses of 2016:
Chief Operating Officer, Facebook
University of California-Berkeley, Commencement 2016
One year and thirteen days ago, I lost my husband, Dave. His death was sudden and unexpected. We were at a friend’s fiftieth birthday party in Mexico. I took a nap. Dave went to work out. What followed was the unthinkable—walking into a gym to find him lying on the floor. Flying home to tell my children that their father was gone. Watching his casket being lowered into the ground.
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A few weeks after Dave died, I was talking to my friend Phil about a father-son activity that Dave was not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, “But I want Dave.” Phil put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.” We all at some point live some form of option B.
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Finding gratitude and appreciation is key to resilience. People who take the time to list things they are grateful for are happier and healthier. It turns out that counting your blessings can actually increase your blessings. My New Year’s resolution this year is to write down three moments of joy before I go to bed each night. This simple practice has changed my life. Because no matter what happens each day, I go to sleep thinking of something cheerful. Try it.
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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. Class of 2016, . . . build resilience. Build resilience in yourselves. When tragedy or disappointment strike, know that you have the ability to get through absolutely anything. I promise you do. As the saying goes, we are more vulnerable than we ever thought, but we are stronger than we ever imagined.
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Be there for your family and friends. And I mean in person. Not just in a message with a heart emoji. Lift each other up, help each other kick the shit out of option B—and celebrate each and every moment of joy.
Former Mayor of New York
University of Michigan, Commencement 2016
The most useful knowledge that you leave here with today has nothing to do with your major. It’s about how to study, cooperate, listen carefully, think critically and resolve conflicts through reason. Those are the most important skills in the working world, and it’s why colleges have always exposed students to challenging and uncomfortable ideas.
The fact that some university boards and administrations now bow to pressure and shield students from these ideas through “safe spaces,” “code words” and “trigger warnings” is, in my view, a terrible mistake.
The whole purpose of college is to learn how to deal with difficult situations — not run away from them. A micro-aggression is exactly that: micro. And one of the most dangerous places on a college campus is a safe space, because it creates the false impression that we can insulate ourselves from those who hold different views.
Former Indiana Governor
President, Purdue University
Purdue Commencement 2016
Scholars on the topic of human happiness have proven that the single strongest key to a satisfying, fulfilling life is “earned success,” the kind that can come only from sustained effort, overcoming difficulties, dealing with setbacks.
And yet, among many pernicious notions of our time, perhaps the most dangerous is the idea, sometimes implied and sometimes express, that life is more or less a lottery. That we are less masters of our fate than corks floating in a sea of luck. Or, even more absurd, that most of us are victims of some kind, and therefore in desperate need of others to protect us against a world of predators and against our own gullibility.
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I’m not saying that luck never plays a part; of course it can. But, unless it’s the tragic kind of luck, it almost never decides a life’s outcome. Like the referees’ calls in a basketball game, the good and bad breaks are likely to even out over the course of a season. What counts in the long run is the quality of your play.
Here’s the deal: You can’t take luck completely out of the equation, but you can tilt the odds in your favor. Decisions you make, and effort you either do or don’t put in, will either increase or reduce the chances that life’s breaks break in your favor.
Some of these choices are pretty obvious. Practicing basic preventive health, like exercise, a prudent diet, and avoiding things you should avoid, raises radically the odds that you will live a longer and more vigorous life span. Getting married and staying that way is powerfully correlated with all kinds of positive outcomes: better health, economic security and career success, and best of all, higher levels of long-term happiness.
But nothing will improve your odds more than the characteristic that got you into this auditorium today. Ask the great achievers of history, like our greatest inventor, Thomas Edison: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Or the incomparable champion of freedom Frederick Douglass, who taught: “We may explain success mainly by one word and that word is work … enduring, honest, unremitting, indefatigable work, into which the whole heart is put.” Or movie pioneer Samuel Goldwyn, who said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”
Creator and star of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical ‘Hamilton’
University of Pennsylvania, Commencement 2016
The simple truth is this: Every story you choose to tell, by necessity, omits others from the larger narrative. One could write five totally different musicals from Hamilton’s eventful, singular American life, without ever overlapping incidents. For every detail I chose to dramatize, there are ten I left out. I include King George at the expense of Ben Franklin. I dramatize Angelica Schuyler’s intelligence and heart at the expense of Benedict Arnold’s betrayal. James Madison and Hamilton were friends and political allies, but their personal and political fallout occurs right on our act break, during intermission. My goal is to give you as much as an evening as musical entertainment can provide, and have you on your way at home slightly before Les Mis lets out next door.
This act of choosing—the stories we tell versus the stories we leave out—will reverberate across the rest of your life. Don’t believe me? Think about how you celebrated this senior week, and contrast that with the version you shared with the parents and grandparents sitting behind you.
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My dear, terrified graduates—you are about to enter the most uncertain and thrilling period of your lives.
The stories you are about to live are the ones you will be telling your children and grandchildren and therapists.
They are the temp gigs and internships before you find your passion.
They are the cities you live in before the opportunity of a lifetime pops up halfway across the world.
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They are the times you say no to the good opportunities so you can say yes to the best opportunities.
They are what Verdi survived to bring us La Traviata.
They are the stories in which you figure out who you are.
There will be moments you remember and whole years you forget.
There will be times when you are Roy and times when you are Jim and Pam.
There will be blind alleys and one-night wonders and soul-crushing jobs and wake-up calls and crises of confidence and moments of transcendence when you are walking down the street and someone will thank you for telling your story because it resonated with their own.
I feel so honored to be a detail, a minor character in the story of your graduation day.
I feel so honored to bear witness to the beginning of your next chapter.
I’m painfully aware of what’s at stake.
I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
Hillsdale College, Commencement 2016
In the arrogance of my early adult life, I challenged my grandfather and doubted the ideals of our nation.
He bluntly asked, “So, where else would you live?”
Though not a lettered man, he knew that, though not nearly perfect, our constitutional ideals were perfectable if we worked to protect them, rather than to undermine them.
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Sadly, today when it seems that grievances rather than personal conduct are the means of elevation, this may sound odd or at least discordant: but those around us, back then, seemed to have resolved to conduct themselves consistent with the duties that the ideals of our country demanded: they were law-abiding, hard-working, disciplined. They discharged their responsibilities to their families and neighbors as best they could. We were taught that despite unfair treatment, we were to be good citizens and good people.
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Just because someone else wronged us did not justify reciprocal conduct on our part. Right was right, and two wrongs did not make a right. As my grandfather often said, we were duty bound to do the right thing, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
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Today there is much more focus on our rights as citizens and what we are owed. It is not often that one hears about our obligations and our duty as citizens.
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As you go through life, try to be that person whose actions teach others how to be better people and better citizens. Reach out to that shy person who is not so popular; stand up for others when they are being treated unfairly, in small things and large; take the time to listen to that friend who is having a difficult time; do not hide your faith under a bushel basket, especially in this world that seems to have gone mad with political correctness; treat others the way you would like to be treated if you stood in their shoes. These small lessons become the unplanned syllabus for becoming a good citizen, and your efforts to live them will help to form the fabric of a civil society and a free and prosperous nation.