(The following post The Best Commencement Speech Of All Time by Pamela B. Paresky, Ph.D., recently appeared on psychologytoday.com. To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)
“My humanity is defined by yours.” Elie Wiesel, Dartmouth Commencement, 2006
In 1990, as I sat at my college graduation in my pale blue cap and gown not listening to the commencement speaker, I never dreamed that 25 years later the internet would disseminate pearls of wisdom delivered to freshly minted graduates, and my generation would read and recirculate them with zeal.
As I eagerly awaited the moment of being declared a college graduate so I could hurry up and get on with my “real” life, a controversial commencement speech was being delivered at Wellesley College by then-First-Lady Barbara Bush. The speech itself was not the subject of controversy; it was the speaker whose invitation to keynote sparked a protest by 150 students at the women’s college who, according to the New York Times account (link is external), were “outraged” because, Mrs. Bush “did not represent the type of career woman the college seeks to educate.” Her accomplishments were, they complained, a result of her marriage to a successful politician, not a result of an independent career.
Outraged or not, the Wellesley College class of 1990 was delivered one of the best commencement speeches of all time by Mrs. Bush—according to NPR whose list (link is external) includes the Dalai Lama, Vaclav Havel, Steve Jobs, and 296 others.
But why, in our 30s, 40s, and beyond, are we still—or maybe for the first time—fascinated by commencement speeches? What is the message we want ourselves to hear? According to two psychologists at Arizona State University in a 2011 paper (link is external) in the journal Current Psychology, commencement speeches typically draw on timeless themes of optimism, goodness, and altruism. The two most frequent messages in the ninety speeches they analyzed were “Help Others” and “Do the Right Thing.” Next on the list in descending order of frequency were “Expand Your Horizons,” “Be True to Yourself,” “Never Give Up,” “Appreciate Diversity,” “Cherish Special Others,” and “Seek Balance.” While graduation would seem to be a time ripe for practical advice, commencement speakers tend to deliver a more profound message. In a culture in which the pursuit of happiness is embedded in our historical narrative, the pursuit of meaning can seem to get short shrift. Yet the messages in the speeches we deem “great” are not about acquiring wealth, becoming successful in business, or even accomplishing great work—although many commencement speakers have done those things, and many graduates will go on to do those things, too. Finding meaning in life through relationships with other people is often the message of great commencement speeches.
J.K. Rowling, addressing Harvard’s graduating class of 2008 (link is external) declared, “… life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life…” Amy Poehler, addressing Harvard’s graduating class of 2011 (link is external) told them, “You can’t do it alone. … No one is here today because they did it on their own.” A compelling short film and internet favorite titled, This is Water (link is external), was created from the 2005 Kenyon College address by the late David Foster Wallace, and beautifully dramatizes the central thesis, “…the really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.”
Whether marking a beginning or reflecting on an end, the message we seem to need is the same. In his recent eulogy for Beau Biden (link is external), President Obama exhorted, “…with every minute that we’ve got, we can live our lives in a way that takes nothing for granted. We can love deeply. We can help people who need help. We can teach our children what matters, and pass on empathy and compassion and selflessness.”
Wellesley graduates twenty-five years ago heard a similar message (link is external), “… as important as your obligations as a doctor, lawyer or business leader will be, you are a human being first and those human connections—with spouses, with children, with friends—are the most important investments you will ever make.”
If you were to write a commencement speech, what would you say? Here is a variation of an exercise I use with students and clients: Imagine that it is some time in the future and you are nearing the end of your life. You are asked to make the keynote address at a college commencement. In a sci-fi twist, the “you” of today will hear this speech. What “future-you” says in this speech has the power to shift the way “present-you” (the real you of today) thinks and acts. What would you write to yourself in that commencement speech?
Perhaps the best commencement speech of all time is the one that you write to yourself.
(The following post Triple Crown Winners: American Pharoah Joins Elite Company by James Brady recently appeared on sbnation.com. To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)
There have been just 11 horses that have been able to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, otherwise known as the Triple Crown. The last one to do it was Affirmed in 1978, and since then there have been 13 other horses that have completed the first two races, only to fall short in the third for one reason or another.
American Pharoah will go for the Triple Crown on Saturday, having won the Derby and having dominated the Preakness. But history is not on the horse’s side, given that more horses have experienced near misses than have won it all in total, and that’s just taking into account the close calls since the last win. Overall, 23 horses have come up just short.
In other words, American Pharoah would be making history and joining the ranks of thoroughbred immortality. Alongside Affirmed, American Pharoah’s name would be included in a group that also contains the legendary Secretariat, winner in 1973 in perhaps the most famous race in history. But that’s not to take anything away from the other horses that have won.
Sir Barton was the first horse to win the Triple Crown, back in 1919. That was before the term was even coined, and the impressive runs in all three races were wildly unexpected at the time. The next winner came in 1930 when Gallant Fox won it all. That’s around the time that the Triple Crown was really established as being the accomplishment in horse racing. Five years later, Gallant Fox’s son, Omaha won the Triple Crown.
War Admiral won it two years later in 1937, then it was Whirlaway, a horse its trainer called “the runningest,” which is a confusing term that ultimately didn’t matter one bit because it won the Triple Crown. Apparently, being the runningest is a good quality. Count Fleet, Assault and Citation won in 1943, 1946 and 1948, respectively, and then the second-largest gap between Triple Crowns occurred.
It wasn’t broken until the aforementioned Secretariat won in 1972. Seattle Slew won in 1977, and then Affirmed the following year in 1978. At the time, the gap between Citation and Secretariat was the longest gap by a wide margin, but it’s taken second billing to the current gap. American Pharoah winning on Saturday would be the biggest news in horse racing in more than 30 years.
Triple Crown Hall Of Thoroughbred Immortality:
1919 Sir Barton
1930 Gallant Fox
1937 War Admiral
1943 Count Fleet
1977 Seattle Slew
2015 American Pharoah
(The following post WHY AMERICAN PHAROAH WILL WIN THE TRIPLE CROWN recently appeared on thebelmont2015.com. To read it in its entirety click on the link below.)
WHY AMERICAN PHAROAH WILL WIN THE TRIPLE CROWN
1. He has already beaten most of the rivals he will face in the Belmont Stakes. And it wasn’t close.
2. In all his races so far, he seemed to have more left in the tank. The extra distance in the Belmont Stakes should help him
3. Both trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza have been in this situation before. They know how to deal with the added pressure
4. He was the 2 year old champion and that bodes well for his Triple Crown chances. Six of the last seven Triple Crown winners were 2 year old champions.
WHY AMERICAN PHAROAH WILL NOT WIN THE TRIPLE CROWN
1. He’s a tired horse. Almost all the horses who he will face in the Belmont Stakes skipped the Preakness in order to be fresh for this race.
2. There’s a reason the 14 horses who have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness since 1978 have lost the BelmontStakes. Running this much in such a short amount of time is not easy.
3. The Belmont racetrack is different than any surface he’s raced on yet. People call the Belmont “Big Sandy” because of the deep sandy track. Other rivals have already ran over it and shown they like it.
4. Even though he won the Preakness impressively, the winning time was the slowest since 1956. His Kentucky Derby time was also relatively slow. He might not be as good as people think.