Graduates have studied hard for four years to ready themselves for the wide world. But before they move on, they must linger for one last lecture, a few guiding pearls of wisdom from a speaker who represents a standard of success to which all should aspire.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
This year, everyone from entertainers to government officials spoke about the path that led them to national prominence. Some jostled their audiences with humor, others stirred hearts with intensely personal tales. But many touched on a common theme: giving back to others and helping to build a community. Work hard and love what you do, they noted. But don't forget the numerous teachers, family, and friends who helped you open the windows of opportunity.
George Washington University, Washington
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Today is the day you get out of the car and your parents look at you to see if you're all right. But this is the last day. Because tomorrow, no more free lunches. No more free rides. Just a whole lot of questions. "Do you have a job yet?"
I remember our daughter following us as I was driving [after her graduation]. She had on her cap and her gown and she was bopping and she had the car we bought her four years ago, and the diploma is on the dashboard. And I pulled over. I couldn't take it anymore.
And she pulled over behind us. And I went back to her car, and she said, "Dad, what's the matter?" And I said, "Where are you going?"
She said, "I'm going home."
I said, "Really. Do you live near us?"
* * *
I'll tell you what. Meet an immigrant. Whether that person is driving a cab or picking trash or washing windows. They have a goal and they know that this is the land of opportunity. And you have to be responsible. So I don't want you to be angry today because you don't have the job you want, because you graduated from the University of Pennsylvania but you didn't get exactly what you wanted or you're not working. Because ladies and gentlemen, this is the land of opportunity. You were born into this, now work it. Work it the same way a person coming from Russia, coming from the Caribbean, coming from China, coming from Thailand, this is your country. Work your own opportunity.
Colby College, Waterville, Maine
You will think back, I'm sure, to this place, where perhaps in some class or some project of study or some all-night conversation with your friends, you touched on that deep wellspring of invention and belief which we call creativity....
That precious moment ... is the first sign and first reassurance that we can truly contribute, that out of our own individuality ... we can find the strength to give and to change and to express ourselves in ways that will change others as well as ourselves....
Each of us ... has to make our own democracy of creativity. We have to resist the pressures of a society which urges you simply to value the product ... we should also remember that the dream of creativity lives in far more people than ever get to write a poem or design an airplane or evolve a mathematical answer.
Those people who keep that dream, who are hospitable to the process of creativity even though they may never achieve its product, they keep the democracy of creativity alive.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Associate Justice, US Supreme Court
Wheaton College, Norton, Mass.
This was [my mother-in-law's] prescription for a happy, enduring marriage: "It pays," she said, "it pays sometimes to be a little deaf." I have followed that advice too, with only occasional lapses, not only at home, but in the places I have worked, even in relation to my colleagues on the United States Supreme Court.
It is important to be a good listener if you are to work with others effectively, but it also pays sometimes to be a little deaf, for example, when a colleague, or a commentator, writes about an opinion on which you have labored endless hours worrying over every word. That opinion is "simply irresponsible," "sloppy," "strange," or "profoundly misguided," and I am not making any of those up.
My mother had a similar idea when she admonished me constantly once I reached my teens, "Be a lady." To her the term "great lady" was the most honorable one. It meant hold fast to your convictions and self-respect, be a good teacher, but don't snap back in anger. Anger, resentment, and indulgence in recriminations waste time and sap energy.
Emerson College, Boston, Mass.