Recently, I participated in Chapman University’s commencement ceremony. Walking across the stage, shaking the university president’s hand and taking my picture with the school mascot represented my role in a staged production to commemorate the close of the Chapman chapter and the preparations for whatever comes next.
As I go through the graduation transition, I look back on commencement speakers and the advice that they have offered.
When I was preparing to graduate high school, Jeffrey Corso offered his thoughts in an article in Sandscript, Chesterton High School’s student newspaper. In his closing lines, Corso said, “Right now, it is a time to celebrate, a time to jubilate, a time we will forever commemorate. CHS, it is time to graduate.”
Commencement, with all due pomp and circumstance, is not just a celebratory pat on the back, but a swift kick in the pants to dive into the future.
A bitter professor wrote his feelings about the lack of student preparations in a Chicago Tribune article titled “College Grads: You’re Shipping Out Before Shaping Up.” He gripes that professors have overheard students bragging that they managed a B in a class without ever cracking a book, among other scholarly shortcuts.
While I, too, have heard the boasts of good grades without studying, this outlook on graduation looks backward into the past when it should be looking forward into the future. Commencement, after all, means a beginning, not an end.
In his address to Wellesley High School titled “You Are Not Special,” David McCullough Jr. offers advice for a way of living that at first seems as bitter as the aforementioned professor. Yet, among his seemingly offensive remarks, he gives wonderful advice for living as an educated person.
His nugget of wisdom ties his speech into a neat bow, “The great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.”
Similarly, David Foster Wallace notes in his speech to Kenyon College that commencement isn’t so much about the job you did in college, but what you’re going to do after it.
The Capital-T Truth, as he calls it, “has almost nothing to do with knowledge and everything to do with simple awareness … The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”
In coping with commencement and finding my way as a college graduate in “the real world,” I have found this advice helpful. Graduation is a time for celebration, jubilation, but also a time for reflection, introspection and preparation for a future of selfless cooperation.