The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


June 6, 2014

Career Coach: What's the real message of a graduation speech?

During this time of the year, it is common to hear speeches at various commencement ceremonies — whether for high school or college graduations or other graduate schools. With so many speeches given by the selected students, alumni and external leaders, what messages are new graduates walking away with?

While graduates may be easily distracted by the ceremony and the celebratory meals and parties with families and friends, they should still come away with at least three things:

A feeling of personal pride, excitement and accomplishment.

A charge or mandate for what they still need to do in the future.

A message of hope and optimism that they can and must make a difference in order to have an impact and improve the world.

Some of the most famous speeches illustrate these key themes. President John Kennedy gave an address at American University in 1963 called "A Strategy of Peace," where he talked about the need for hope and a "can-do" attitude.

"First examine our attitude towards peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal."

Likewise, J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series, gave the address at Harvard University in 2008. While she is known for speaking about the "fringe benefits of failure," she also eloquently spoke about the impact that graduates, particularly those from a prestigious school can and should have on the world they live in. As she noted:

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