Last weekend, we attended two graduations and heard more than a few commencement speeches. Many were quite good, while some I have already forgotten. This post will condense the good one and dispense with the rest, thereby saving you the reader much personal time and a sore butt. Most commencement chairs were inevitably uncomfortable and their discomfort was most noticeable during the lulls in the ceremonies.
First up was David Leonhardt, a columnist for the New York Times and editor of the column, The Up Shot. He received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Niagara University. He said that whenever he was eating dinner, either with just his wife or with close friends, he was the only one at the table without a graduate degree. He thanked Niagara for remedying that. Of all the speakers, he was the only one with whom I had some familiarity with. I like The Up Shot, with its clever infographics. The gist of his speech seemed to me to be selling those who have already purchased. He was selling the value of a college education to a room full of graduates. He reeled off facts and numbers that asserted the value of a college degree for everything from finances to longevity. His speech was less stirring, rather more affirming, telling these newly minted graduates that they had done the right thing.
The main commencement speaker at the University of Rochester was the educator, Deborah Bial. IMHO, she was the best speaker of the weekend. She launched her speech by taking a selfie of the university president and herself. Her theme was along the lines of to your own self be true. In this social media era, where self-branding is routine, she argued to the graduating class of 2015 that they should strive to try to keep it real. She pulled no punches when she offered up NBC’s Brian Williams and the Yankee’s A-Rod as poster children of how not to manage your brand.
The final speaker that I’ll mention is Richard Rashid. He founded Microsoft Research an adjunct to the Microsoft. He gave up a secure and prosperous position to head research for what was then a company that had only recently just moved out of the garage. You could say that the rest is history, but his put was summed up with the analogy of the closest parking space. When parking, it is always easier to take the first available spot, but when you drive right up to the front door there is frequently a better spot there. He explained that while this is not always true, it is true more often than you would think, because so few people try for that primo parking spot.
To the graduating class of 2015, don’t forget to wear sunscreen.