If I were to give a Commencement Address, what would I say? It seems like I should have some insight into the advice given to graduates. I have lived a long life. I have graduated three times: high school, college, and graduate school, though I did not attend the final graduation.
I have no idea who spoke at my graduations or what they had to say. But I do remember I spoke at my high school graduation as the Salutatorian. We had assigned topics. Mine: Religion. My speech likely was very close-minded, having lived only in a tiny town of 500 people with three churches: Seventh Day Adventist, Seventh Day Baptist, and my church – First Day Baptist — meaning we worshiped on Sunday while the other two churches worshiped on Saturday, keeping the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. Only one Catholic family lived in my town and only one Democratic family, that I knew of.
With my limited exposure, I likely said things which cannot be said today in a sectarian gathering. I probably talked about my experience with religion giving my personal testimony of my walk with God. I do remember making comments about the theory of evolution only being a theory. Something I would not say today, as I now believe the Big Bang Theory and evolution fall perfectly in line with the scriptural description of creation.
As for my college graduation, another life-changing event eclipsed it. The night before graduation, my boyfriend asked me to marry him! Who cared about a degree and graduation honors when I had a diamond on my finger?! His parents were on campus, staying at his brother and his wife’s apartment, as the brother was also graduating in my class the next day.
My boyfriend borrowed his Dad’s car, a turquoise blue Ford Fairlaine, to take me out for a drive. That was in the day of bench seats and no seatbelts, so we could sit shoulder to shoulder as he drove. We entered a park where I had never been before (or since). He pulled into a parking space facing a lovely lake. We sat and chatted about the ducks and shimmering water— all alone! Just the two of us! We did not have that luxury on campus, as very few students had a car, including us! This was 1968. Not all that long ago in my estimation, yet the world was far different then than it is now. A mere 23 + years later, our two children could not possibly have survived without having their own car at college!
Back to our chat. . . He reached across me, opened the glove compartment, and pulled out a small ring box. I was shocked! He opened the box and asked the age-old question, to which I responded, “You know I will!” I really had no expectation of becoming engaged! But my soul soared over the moon!
We stopped at the apartment of close friends to share our news. Cloud Nine was several hundreds of thousands of miles below my euphoria. Then we returned to his family to share our news. There were hugs and words of cheer, except my mother-in-law-to-be stated flatly, “Take it off.” The second shock of the evening. She had not expected this event any more than I had. But other circumstances precluded her happiness. She not only did not want to give up her baby boy who still had two years left before his Bachelor’s, but their conservative holiness sect did not wear jewelry. The acceptable engagement gift was a watch. Wow! What a different world back then!
My parents arrived on campus the next morning. Their reaction? Ecstasy! We took photos of them holding my hand up to the camera!
At Syracuse University, the only recognition individual grads received was for the entire class to stand together at their seats in the football stadium bleachers when the School of Library and Information Science was announced. I don’t think our names were even read. How could they? The school is too vast. Diplomas arrived by mail. I wonder how many students from the Library School actually attended. No one I knew personally.
If I were to give a commencement address today, I would encourage the graduates to:
– Go as far as you can with your dreams. Don’t give up. Keep working toward the goal you have set for yourself.
– Always maintain your integrity. Never tweak the truth. Always do what you commit yourself to do. Being embarrassed of yourself is a position no one wants to encounter.
– Remember the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Start every day with a purposeful vow to be kind to someone that day. Do random acts of kindness such as paying for the person behind you in the drive-thru line. Drop a quarter in a parking meter which has expired. Bring a popular treat into the office occasionally. – – Remember to say encouraging words to others.
– It’s OK to have some fear entering a new world. I remember graduating with my Master of Science in Library Science and having been elected by the faculty to the national library honor society, yet wondering — “Will I be a good librarian. One that will make a difference, helping people in their search for information.” That edge of fear will keep one working to do their best.
– Go beyond expectations. Be superlative. Volunteer to help. Charge ahead to do things no one likes doing. Go out of your way to be a positive force in whatever environment you find yourself.
Anyone who can accomplish and maintain these life styles, will succeed.