The Commencement Address No One Asked Me to Give

By Stuart Adelberg

Well, it’s graduation season, and once again I have been passed over as a commencement speaker. I have not distinguished myself as an expert in any field, nor do I have noteworthy wisdom to impart. But surely my charm, eloquence, and good attitude ought to count for something! My verbosity is legendary, but that’s simply because I enjoy listening to myself. I would think one institution out of the thousands celebrating graduations might be compelled to hand me a microphone, if for no other reason than the inability to secure anyone better.

While I begrudgingly wait for my invitation, I do have some suggestions for this year’s graduates. They come with no cap, no gown, and certainly no honorary degree. In fact, most of what I’ve learned came from my parents, two of the smartest people I know. Someday our graduates may be lucky enough to see their parents this way, but that’s a subject for another speech! I impart my thoughts here with the hope that someone might share one or two on my behalf.


You enter a world with very real, extremely serious problems. Your generation will be challenged like no other to address crises that would shake the most capable among us. The scope of our problems is daunting and today they are exacerbated by an alarming tendency to disavow their very existence. Your first challenge is to create a world in which integrity is paramount, where facts come first. It is healthy to have different visions of the future as we might like it to be, but we will never move in any direction until we can acknowledge where we are today.

Remember that the person who disagrees with you is convinced, as sincerely you are, that their perspective is right. It can seem impossible to understand why someone feels or thinks so differently than you. This just makes the job of truly hearing them that much harder. Understanding where someone is coming from is not the same as agreeing with them. And finding compromise or simply agreeing to disagree is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. Wise people recognize the value of lifelong learning, but if you are convinced that you already have all the answers, what’s left to learn?

Your outlook will be vastly improved if you embrace the concept of service for the greater good. As overwhelming as life may seem, there are forces and challenges confronting millions of others that are much more serious and potentially more hopeless than ours. A life driven by empathy, benevolence, and compassion, is a life of meaningful purpose. The right thing to do is always right, and it is even more virtuous when it comes with personal cost.

Sing. Anywhere you can. Out loud or to yourself. Welcoming art into your life, regardless of talent, or lack thereof, will bring you joy, even in the worst of times. Throw in a couple of dance steps and you will be downright jubilant!

Never lose the ability to laugh at yourself – others will be doing it, so you might as well join them! Life is challenging and there will be countless times when the weight of the world will require somber thoughts and serious actions. But there are very few circumstances that cannot be made a little better with a moment of humor.

Finally, have faith in your generation’s ability to change the world, but don’t expect others to do it without you. You are inheriting a world of wondrous possibilities, but the responsibility for nurturing them belongs to you. You got this!

Stuart Adelberg has a long history of leadership and active involvement in the nonprofit arts and human services sector throughout the region. He appreciates the opportunity, provided by Greenwich Sentinel, to share his occasional thoughts and observations!

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