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As graduation season winds down, many students – and parents – may have already forgotten the long, possibly boring, speeches they heard at these events. We can’t rewind the clock on those speeches, but we want to highlight some recent commencement addresses that deserve a bit more attention.
Learning from past mistakes or simply considering new information and, maybe, changing your mind were common themes in graduation speeches this year.
Speaking to the graduates of the University of Southern Maine, Dr. Nirav Shah, the head of the Maine Center for Disease Control, asked them about the last time they changed their mind on an issue of substance. “In the past week? Month? Year?” he asked. “See, the thing is, the conventional wisdom here is wrong. Sure, you should have beliefs, but you should also be actively searching for information that challenges those beliefs.”
“My first piece of anti-advice, and certainly the most important, is to have strong opinions, weakly held,” Shah said later in his May 7 address. “This is hard to do. Our culture doesn’t make it any easier. Changing your mind is taken as a sign of weakness.”
“When people in public health did it during COVID, they were labeled as flip floppers, indecisive, hypocrites,” he continued. “But when facts change, changing one’s mind is the most reasonable thing to do.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook took a different approach to this same idea.
“You should make decisions, big and small, each and every day based on a deep understanding of who you are and what you believe,” he told the graduates of Gallaudet University on May 13. “These are not static things, and you wouldn’t want them to be. You will learn more and grow more with each passing year as all of us do, but there are foundational values that are core to your personality and your character and these are the things you should choose to live by.”
In April, undergraduate student speaker Molly Feanny signed a video message to Cook asking him to speak at Gallaudet, a school for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in Washington, D.C. He quickly accepted.
One of the most shared, and quoted, speeches this year was singer Taylor Swift’s remarks to the graduating class at New York University. Swift was awarded an honorary doctorate at the May 18 ceremony.
“In your life, you will inevitably misspeak, trust the wrong person, underreact, overreact, hurt the people who didn’t deserve it, overthink, not think at all, self-sabotage, create a reality where only your experience exists, ruin perfectly good moments for yourself and others, deny any wrongdoing, not take the steps to make it right, feel very guilty, let the guilt eat at you, hit rock bottom, finally address the pain you caused, try to do better next time, rinse, repeat,” Swift told the NYU class of 2022, after joking that she’d been chosen to speak to them only because she recorded a song called “22”.
If we dare translate the words of the multi-Grammy winner: Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’ll mess up. Don’t overthink it. Move on.
And, here’s a bit more from the prolific, but not always upbeat, songwriter: “Life can be heavy, especially if you try to carry it all at once. Part of growing up and moving into new chapters of your life is about catch and release. What I mean by that is, knowing what things to keep, and what things to release. You can’t carry all things, all grudges, all updates on your ex, all enviable promotions your school bully got at the hedge fund his uncle started. Decide what is yours to hold and let the rest go. … You get to pick what your life has time and room for. Be discerning.”
That’s good advice for all of us, not just recent graduates.