Call me sentimental, but I’ve always loved graduations: the way they tie up loose ends and signify new beginnings, the chance to reflect on the past, and celebrate the future. I feel bad for the graduates of 2020. Schools closed 2 months ago. Students finished (what they could) their education on line. When I graduated I can still remember handing in my last paper. I remember getting together that night with a few others who were graduating and having a little barbecue in front of our apartment. We had an opportunity to share what came next. Grad school, Law School, Work, Summer jobs, Internships. Even the fear of “What’s Next” was exciting.
Like the final months of their education, 2020 graduation will be online and virtual.
We will be ok, we will get back to normal. We, as a society have rebounded from much worse. I hope at that time schools are able to recognize these students. Maybe just invite them back for a party. I hope the recognition comes before the first Alumni fundraising drive.
I have always wanted to deliver a commencement speech. If I were to give one here is what I would say. This goes out to CHASE, my son. As well as Anna and Annie, 2 young women graduating college this year. It also goes out to Emma, Fran, Gillian and Hannah. 3 gymnasts from Atlantic Gymnastics graduating High School this year.
(Picture me standing up in front of a lecture)
Graduations look very different today—as does the world students are graduating into. For so many, this pandemic has heightened the anxiety already baked into senior year, altering post-graduate plans and affecting job prospects.
But it’s because of this uncertainty that I believe the essential practices of commencement—reflection, transition, and, yes, even celebration—are more important than ever before.
To the class of 2020: I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to graduate in such a moment as this one. But I’ve found that the following principles have gotten me and my colleagues through the hardest of times—including the one we’re all living through now.
ASSUME AND EXPECT POSITIVE INTENT
With a number of colleges going pass/fail this semester, many students have voiced a common concern: “How will future employers react to seeing a P rather than an A on my transcript?”
The answer is: We’ll understand. After all, we know what you’re going through. And, in all likelihood, we have also benefitted from others’ understanding during these challenging times.
This crisis has highlighted the importance of empathy, patience, and trust. In many ways, it has shown that people are far often more compassionate than we might expect.
Whether it’s something as massive as a global pandemic, or as small as a challenging project, I’ve always found that assuming positive intentions is key to not only building relationships but also to learning. When you lose your defensiveness, you open yourself up to new ways of seeing and doing things. As organizations grapple with how to meet this moment, your new perspective might just be your most valuable asset.
Though graduation may signify an end—perhaps just a temporary one—to your formal education, this crisis has demonstrated the many ways in which learning can extend beyond the physical classroom.
What’s more, it has reinforced what has long been true. The best innovations happen when we work across fields, sectors, and disciplines. Your major won’t necessarily determine your employment, nor will it define your value as an employee. Rather, the most successful graduates will be the ones who are curious, creative, collaborative, and able to think critically about the world around them.
So, continue to learn. Keep doing your homework. Keep listening to your peers and to those above you, to those you agree with and those with different perspectives, and keep raising your hand and asking hard questions.
Reach out to your communities to see how you can help those in greatest need. Lending a hand—or even just lending an ear—is perhaps the most valuable learning opportunity of all.
CHOOSE WORDS WITH CARE
In a moment when written communication is more important than ever, choose your words with care. Whether you’re crafting an informal email or a widely circulated memo, a social media update, or a cover letter, take your time writing it. Read over your work twice. Then, walk away for a few minutes. And when you come back, read it again. Yes, speed is important, but those extra few minutes you spend culling and clarifying can help you avoid miscommunication, saving you precious time in the long run.
Kindness has gained currency in the 21st century; it’s equally popular among CEOs, creative types and Mother Teresa. “Err in the direction of kindness,” as author George Saunders told Syracuse University in 2013 speech.
A lesson of the pandemic is that we must find balance. You must ask yourself, “How can I combine career and family?”. One without the other is a wasted experience.
The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Dream, set the bar high and chart your path. You are going to make some mistakes but pick yourself up and keep going.
REMEMBER WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this crisis has crystallized my belief that family and health come first, always. When this virus begins to subside, as it will, it may become more difficult to keep this belief front and center. And as you take on more responsibility at work, it may become harder to put it into practice.
Still, whatever it takes, and whatever form it takes, prioritize your family and friends, professors and coaches who got you to this moment: the people cheering from a distance as you get your diploma, counting down the days until they get to give you a congratulatory hug.
UPDATE- I gave a shout out to ANNA BURNS. This was a video that she made and the video that UNH used for commencement! So proud.