Commencement addresses are typically bastions of the banal. Every year at this time, commencement speakers from coast to coast bore graduates and their families with the same boring and trite admonitions. Be true to yourself (The Paula Abdul Commencement), make a difference, you are the future leaders, blah blah.
So when you find a few needles in the proverbial haystack, it is worth pointing them out. The first is a snippet from a commencement address delivered at Boston College by acclaimed historian David McCullough. This is sort of a follow up to this video we posted the other day. McCullough told the new grads to value learning and language.
“Read the classics of American literature that you’ve never opened. Read your country’s history. . . . Read about the great turning points in the history of science and medicine and ideas.”
He also pleaded with graduates to rid the vernacular of a “verbal virus”: the rampant use of “like,” “you know,” “awesome,” and “actually.”
“Just imagine if in his inaugural address John F. Kennedy had said, “Ask not what your country can, you know, do for you, but what you can, like, do for your country, actually.”
That was like awesome, actually.
As amusing as that was, another commencement address is some of the best advice I have ever heard given to grads. This address was given by former Bush speechwriter and political commentator William McGurn. No setup or commentary needed. Just read.
As a professional speechwriter [until returning to the Wall Street Journal a few months ago, Bill was chief speechwriter to President Bush], I am painfully aware of the forms common for this occasion. The clichés fall into a familiar pattern: Dare to be different … do your own thing … and don’t be afraid to be a “rebel.”
There is something false and cheap about all this. It is well not to be afraid of being different, and it can be a form of courage. But if we aim to be different only for different’s sake, the likelihood is that we end up as the ultimate cliché – rebels without a cause.
That is not why men and women choose Benedictine. Your alumni include highly talented CEOs, military officers, members of the clergy, leaders of great foundations, and even a Nobel Prize winner. These people owe much of their success to the start they were given here. And whatever their field of endeavor, I believe all would agree with me about three propositions that are easily forgotten and only painfully re-learned.
First, who you marry is far more important than what career you choose. Over the course of a life that has taken me across three continents, I have met many accomplished men and women. And I have always been astonished by the number who give more thought to choosing the job they may hold for a couple of years than to choosing the spouse to whom they will pledge – before God and their friends – to remain with until death they do part.
Second, no professional achievement – no matter how extraordinary – can match the thrill of seeing the absolute love and confidence reflected in the trusting eyes of a child who calls you Mom or Dad.
Finally, you will not find lasting happiness by pursuing it. Happiness is the byproduct of a contented life. And the surest path to a contented life is to put the needs of others before your own.
This wonderful advice was given to the graduates of Benedictine College in Kansas. My advice to those grads, listen to Mr. McGurn.