I love this time of year. Not just because it’s my birthday month (and the month I was named for!) but also because it’s graduation season. And more specifically, it’s commencement address season.

It’s the beautiful time of year when an inspiring and diverse group of people are invited to give their best advice to young people in transition all across the world.

For example, the class of 2019 will be hearing from Viola Davis, Bill Nye, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, Yo-Yo Ma, and Angela Merkel to name just a few.

And the best part is that they’re usually filmed for us all to enjoy!

What I love about a good commencement speech is that it’s a simple, easy and fun way to gain advice on how to live a good life and succeed in your career. After all, someone with rich experience has worked hard to distill their wisdom into an easy-to-digest TEDTalk-like send-off.

There are three commencement speeches that have had the greatest impact on me and I’d love to share the insights I’ve learned with you.

The first not only because of its powerful message, but also because I just heard it this past weekend so its message is fresh in my mind! The other two I heard in past years but they’ve stuck with me and have messages that I still think about in my life and work.

“Be careful who you listen to”

Last weekend, I attended my daughter’s college graduation from Emerson College. I’ll spare you the whole “proud mother” recap of the day and simply tell you it was a joy to watch her cross the stage to receive her diploma – and smile at us as she strode back to her seat!

The commencement speaker was the broadcast journalist, Soledad O’Brien. She was not only witty and engaging, I loved her message to Emerson’s Class of 2019.

1. Be careful who you listen to because there’s a lot of bad advice out there. People will caution you not to do things and tell you that you can’t do things you want to do. But this comes from fear. Fear you’ll get hurt. Fear you might fail. Fear you’ll be disappointed.

For example, people told her mother and father not to enter into an interracial marriage, which was illegal in Maryland at the time. But they drove to Washington D.C., got married, and had 6 children and a happy life.

Great things can come from ignoring bad advice and doing what you feel is right for you.

2. To change the world, “start with the common ground. Find the sliver we have in common” and focus on that. Remember, “your dream doesn’t have to be at the expense of others’ dreams”.

3. “Search for the truth, then fight for it to get air time.” Each of us can make the world better by doing the research, getting the data and telling the story (or helping others to tell their story). “It’s not enough to do the work, you have to share the work.”

“Work hard, have fun, be nice”

I was inspired by Joe Wicks’ story which he spoke about in his speech to the 2017 graduating class at St. Mary’s University. Joe is “The Body Coach” Fitness Coach, TV Presenter and Author.

Joe went from having no idea about his career and no money to finding what he loves to do and turning it into a business – The Body Coach, which helps people change their lives through exercise and nutrition. And by the way, it became a multi-million-dollar business in just 5 years.

To quote Joe, “When you know what you love to do, success can come quickly.” And don’t worry if you don’t know right now. “Be patient, explore, you’re going to get there.”

Echoing a theme from Soledad O’Brien’s talk, he pointed out that “so many people will say your idea’s no good, it won’t work, it’s been done before” but you have to keep doing what you want to do.

1. Always be yourself – it’s never too late.

2. You’re going to get rejection – keep going and don’t give up when you get knocked back.

3. Focus not on money but on how you can solve a problem and make people feel better – if you’re adding value to someone’s life, it’ll come around.

Finally, if you live by Joe’s simple mantra, it will all turn out well: “work hard, have fun, be nice”.

“We are the wolves”

Abby Wambach’s speech to the Barnard Class of 2018 was inspirational. Abby is US Women’s National Soccer Team Legend and world record holder for most international goals for both female and male soccer players.

Abby shared four out of her eight rules for life. She writes about all eight in her book The Wolfpack, which I highly recommend (I bought a copy for each of my daughters).

These are the three messages that resonated with me the most:

1. “We are the wolves”. Abby calls out the childhood story, Little Red Riding Hood, for sending the message to young girls to “keep your head down, stay on the path, and get the job done.” In the fairytale, when Red Riding Hood becomes curious and deviates from the path (spoiler alert!) she gets eaten by the wolf.

Wambach reframes the story to tell you that “you were never Red Riding Hood, you were always the Wolf”.

2. Rules to live by:

  • Make failure your fuel – let the feeling of failure fuel your power, don’t allow it to be your downfall.
  • Lead from the bench – wherever you sit in the team or organization, you can lead.
  • Champion each other – when we support each other, we all get stronger.
  • Demand the ball – step up and add the value you were meant to add.

3. Don’t let your job or what you do define you. “Who do I want to be?” is more important a question to ask yourself than “what do I want to do?” In the end, “what you do will never define you, who you are always will.”

Be Inspired

If you have a graduate in your family, then congratulations and enjoy the ceremony!

And if you don’t, then I encourage you to check out some of the videos and articles about commencement speakers. There are so many great ones! A great place to start is to search for commencement speeches on YouTube.

I’d love to know which commencement speech you’ve felt inspired by and what you’ve taken away from it.

And what would be your best advice to young people as they embark on the next chapter in their life?

Leave me a comment – I’d love to know!