Pomp and Circumstance music plays in the background.
Greetings graduates. I see the sea of those little hats with the dangling liripoops out there looking for all the world like you all walked here balancing books on your heads. Your eyes look excited, frightened, unsure, I don’t blame anyone for looking that way. There’s a world out there that eats naiveté for breakfast.
I don’t pretend to know what they are teaching in schools these days. But I know what it’s like to be your age, and regardless of changing culture and technology, you are at the edge of childhood advancing forward to adulthood. You may or may not have a good idea what to do with your lives. You may or may not know how to go about it. But how many of you can honestly say that you don’t want to do something significant? You might be thinking: “What difference can I make in the world?”
And the world might look so daunting that you would rather be back in kindergarten eating glue. It’s alright. The world is scary. You can be frightened. But here’s what you can’t do. You can’t go back. No matter how many bottles of glue you eat, you’ll never be six again.
But here is the encouraging news. You can make a difference. It doesn’t have to mean going out into the world and discovering a marvelous cure for all known diseases or writing the Great American Novel. I want to tell you today that you can make a difference in the world just by being who you truly are.
21 years ago when I had a friend in the hospital with a broken leg, life was scary for her. The trauma of the car accident, the pain of a broken femur and the misery of a hospital stay all weighed down on my friend. But we had another friend down the hall. She was another patient at the time recovering from abdominal surgery. We didn’t get generic “get well soon” messages or any one-upmanship for pain stories. What we got were cheerful words and smiles.
And in that two week hospital stay, one of the greatest moments was when our friend joyfully announced to us that she had finally passed gas, a significant objective following abdominal surgery. We were overjoyed with her.
My dear graduates, be yourselves and bring joy to the world with things as little as a breath of wind. You don’t need to try hard at all to be yourself. It’s how you were made. You may think that the world is like a cavernous hospital corridor, dark and wide and frightening. So do what my friend did and plod down that hall as best as you can in order to work out what needs to be passed. And when the little victories come, look for them, they will, share that joy with others.
Graduates as you rise to take your diploma, I encourage each of you to smile at the person handing it to you. Let that smile say you’ve passed something and are ready to move on.