Young people graduating from high school and college are getting a lot of advice right now, much of it probably lost in the excitement and celebratory hoopla that surround such rites. Not surprising. As the saying goes, unsolicited advice is often worth just what you pay for it.
But graduation speakers, reflecting on their life lessons, do offer all of us a chance to revisit our own benchmarks in an ever evolving world. Some of their advice is simple: Be kind. Cherish friends. Wear sunscreen. Don’t text and drive.
Some advice is more a bit more philosophical, and it’s certainly a good juncture for that. Here are a few gems from speakers this year, and a few years back, that address goals, failure, success, and living to the fullest.
• JK Rowling, novelist best know for the “Harry Potter” books: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.
• Steve Jobs, Apple founder, in 2005 remarks after his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life … the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
• Jerry Zucker, film director: “It doesn’t matter that your dream came true if you spent your whole life sleeping. So get out there and go for it, but don’t be caught waiting. It’s great to plan for your future. Just don’t live there, because really nothing ever happens in the future. Whatever happens happens now, so live your life where the action is — now.”
• Maria Popova, writer and founder of the blog brainpickings.org: “You may find your fate forked by construction and destruction frequently … And you will have to choose between being the hammer-wielding vandal, who may attain more immediate results — more attention — by tearing things and people and ideas down; or the sculptor of culture, patiently chiseling at the bedrock of how things are to create something new and beautiful and imaginative following a nobler vision, your vision, of how things can and should be.”
• Nora Ephron, author, speaking to women grads: “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim. Maybe young women don’t wonder whether they can have it all any longer, but in case any of you are wondering, of course you can have it all. What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications.”
• Neil Gaiman, British novelist and screenwriter: “And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.”
• Of course, what would a commencement speech be without a little humor? So in closing, here’s a thought from comedian Lewis Black, from a 2013 commencement ceremony:
“Pursue whatever it is that you want to do with your life. It is the only secret to happiness that I know except for maybe true love, that and maybe having the amazing health insurance plan that our congressmen have.”