By Icy Frantz
It’s that amazing time year when we get to say hello to our flip flops and shorts and farewell to our overcoats and wool hats. We listen to the birds chirping, watch the playgrounds fill with children, and admire the fair-weather runners who are back at it on the streets.
Seasonal allergies aside, I love it all. Even if the air is still cool, there is something so soothing about the warm sun on my face, the days that last a little bit longer, and the anticipation of the impending relaxation as summertime knocks on our door.
But what I love most about this time of year is the slow trickle of speeches, with their snippets of advice, and pictures of bright, young twenty-somethings dressed in their caps and gowns, that appear on my social media feeds.
Yup – it’s the culmination of 4 – or maybe 5, maybe 6 years – of academic study, and the chance to raise a glass in celebration. It’s appreciating the past, but looking out towards the future.
And although I know that these salutations are not for me – that ship sailed a long time ago – I still enjoy the moment-the significance and excitement of finishing something and moving on; the feeling of pride, fear, and even sadness (if the experience was a good one)…and now it’s over.
In a few days, we will attend – in person (!), albeit in a big outdoor stadium – our son’s 2020 graduation that was cancelled due to COVID. 95% of his class is returning for the ceremony; that certainly says something about the importance of recognizing achievements – and ends.
When it came to getting my own college degree, I was a long hauler, and I was thrilled – not sad – when it was over, and I had that hard-fought piece of paper in my hand.
But maybe we do share something with the graduate even when it’s not us, and even when we are not the proud parent sitting in the bleachers or folding chair. Maybe its nostalgia; maybe it’s a need to be a part of something triumphant – and maybe there are takeaways from those speeches that speak to us, too.
Just the other week a friend recommended that I subscribe to a daily newsletter called Morning Brew, and this morning I was happy to see in it a few words intended for the soon-to-be college graduates:
1. You are never too old to start a jigsaw puzzle.
2. Turtles do not make good pets because they live forever and truly stink.
3. Live every day like you are about to get jury duty.
And to my point – this is advice that we all can appreciate.
My sister attended college in Florida, and loved it so much she remained in the college town after graduation, and married another alum. One of her sons attended the same school and graduated a few years back. So when a video of a valedictorian’s speech from my sister’s college came across my feed, my ears perked up.
The speaker, Elizabeth Bonker, urged her classmates to use their voices, serve others, find the value in everyone they meet, and be the light.
On the surface, her words feel pretty status quo, but there was nothing status quo about them.
What makes this particular speech so moving is that Elizabeth Bonker is affected by non- speaking autism. She stood silently at the podium while her words, that she had typed with one finger onto a computer, were read by another.
She closed with a quote from Alan Turing, the English mathematician, logician, and cryptographer responsible for breaking the Nazi’s Enigma code during World War ll:
Sometimes it’s the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.
And certainly, we can all be inspired by that.
Often graduation speeches reflect the current state of affairs, and this year more than ever, that has been the case.
The class of 2022 did not have a “normal” college experience; their life on campus was interrupted by COVID, and many students were forced to learn how to study remotely. Our country was in turmoil, and much of the world was (and is) washed with uncertainty.
So, it makes sense that Kelly Corrigan, in her speech to the soon-to-be graduates of the University of Richmond, spoke about the 67 Reasons for Optimism (which included the mRNA vaccine, Spanx, and, of course, Zelensky).
Billie Jean King, speaking at Springfield College, said, “Champions learn how to adjust, and that is what you have all done as members of the Class of 2022.”
And Maria Shriver at University of Michigan noted, “Fear is a deadly virus for which there is no vaccine. By embracing that which terrifies you, you will discover what makes you feel most alive.”
It’s early in the graduation season, and there are many more speeches to come for the 2022 graduates (Taylor Swift at NYU and Condoleezza Rice at Southern Utah University, to name a few), so I enlisted a couple of friends and family members and asked them what they might say if they found themselves up at the podium on graduation day.
Follow your own path. Make your own story.
– Brady Frantz, Student
Expect a crooked path.
-Darby Fox, Child and Adolescent Family Therapist
Inspired by a speech given by Admiral William H McRaven:
– Make your bed every morning – you will have accomplished the first task of the day.
– If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.
– You need to be your very best in the darkest moments.
– Don’t ever give up.
– Elaine Ubina, Founder, Fairfield County Look
Sometimes doing the right thing is not the popular thing, so anticipate a rocky road.
-Kyle Silver, Executive Director, Arch Street Teen Center
Always do your best…and never worry about taking credit for anything.
– Scott Mitchell, Richards Greenwich
You do you and don’t try and be anyone else…they are already taken.
– Cary Keigher, Parent and friend extraordinaire
– Think before you speak….always. It is hard to take back words once spoken.
– Work hard to be good at the little things in life. Then, you will be in the habit of being good at all things in life, no matter the size or situation.
– Take time to laugh, smile, and cry each day. Experiencing every emotion during a day is to live life to the fullest.
– Treat each day as if it’s your first and last.
– Fred Camillo, First Selectman, Town of Greenwich
And true to the nature of many graduation speeches – or at least for the graduates who are waiting patiently to get to the bar at the reception and on with their life – this piece has probably gone on too long. Or, as my husband usually comments, “It was a good speech, but it could have been shorter.”
I will end here, and wish all graduates – and soon-to-be graduates, and even those long-ago graduated – congratulations!
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish -Steve Jobs