Here are my two biggest gripes with commencement addresses: they are usually too long and the speaker usually doesn’t actually address the graduates. I once sat through an hour and a half long commencement address. It was bad enough that it was overly lengthy (he even had supplemental material in the lobby because he just couldn’t get to it in a “reasonable time”), but the worst offense was that it had absolutely nothing to do with the graduating class (or even graduating in general). I also sat in the audience at a high school stadium as the state senator who gave the address completely failed to look at the graduating class (who sat to her left) even once. She addressed her remarks to those of us in the audience who weren’t, you know, graduating.
These are some of the reasons I have (admittedly far-fetched)dreams of one day somehow giving a commencement address. I’ve thought about it for years and, if I’m ever given the opportunity, can guarantee this: I will address the graduating class and it won’t be too long.
Since pragmatism dictates that the chances of this happening are pretty slim, I’ll share how my commencement address to the class of 2011 might go:
Ladies and gentleman of the class of 2011, I am sure you’ve fielded a number of questions over the last few months. I imagine that the frequency increased as this day drew nearer. In various ways, at different times, friends, family, and teachers asked you essentially the same two questions: “Where will you go?” and “What will you do?”
You may have answered, “to college,” “the military,” or maybe even, “I’m going to travel for a year.” For many, the answer came easily because it is what you’ve prepared for. It is what you’ve worked for. Even if you don’t have a grand pan, I wager that the answer still came easily because the questions have been asked so many times.
I, too, have a question for you, but I fear it is one you may not have yet heard. Even if you have, I doubt it’s been repeated as often as the others.
This is my question: “Who will you be?” Think carefully before you answer, because this answer shapes your life more than any college, career, or love affair. This answer requires the greatest thought and the most exquisite care. It determines how you react when you don’t wind up where you thought you’d go. It decides your course when you can’t accomplish what you planned to do.
Will you be a man or woman of integrity, or will you sacrifice anything for the top grade, the best promotion? Will you be honest, or abandon Truth when it is convenient. Will you be who you are in spite of all around you? Will you be a constant others can count on, or a shiftless, changing form?
Who will you be? Decide now, decide today that being better does not come from a higher GPA, scoring the most points, getting the better promotion, or even being more well known. Decide now that it comes from the strength of your character. Decide now that where you go or what you do will never be more important than who you are!
Who will you be? The decision is yours alone. Decide well, then, Go Forth, sure of who you are.