GSL Column: The graduation speech I’ve never given

Note: This column first appeared in the June 2021 edition of Great Seal Living magazine. 

We’ve just come through graduation season and it occurs to me that I’ve never been asked to be a commencement speaker. Outside speakers are less critical than they have been in the past, as we look to the graduate speeches to hear from the future leaders of our community and country.

But I’ve secretly coveted and believed I could handle the graduation speaker’s role. The focus is to be inspirational, memorable, and meaningful.

Maybe this is my time. I mean, we’re still doing so many things virtually, so why not deliver an analog, virtual graduation speech? Ok, here we go …

I know many people would like this to be a forward-looking and challenging address. I’m going to be a little different from that because, to be completely honest, challenging is something these graduates have had to deal with for the better part of two years. They know the challenges in front of them because they’ve lived them. They don’t really need another person speculating on what lies ahead.

Instead, I will be a little more basic with my remarks because I believe what helps you address challenges as you confront them is having a basic, solid foundation around you. I think being stable in the three things I’m going to tell you about helps with life’s dilemmas. I’ll readily admit there are other life skills and behaviors that could apply, but I’ll focus on just this trio in the interests of time.

First, be grateful.

Many people poured into you to help you get to this day, and it is so critical to thank them. From the top ten students down to those who barely scraped by, someone somewhere helped you get the diploma you will receive today.

It might be the teacher who took extra time to guide you on your assignments in middle school or the coach who helped you be a better person while he or she was mentoring you athletically. Maybe it’s a friend who cares enough to tell you about the wrong path you were taking or challenged you to be a better you than you dreamed you could be.

Gratitude keeps our hearts open and helps strengthen and even repair an emotional bond between people. It keeps us grounded and has significant benefits for our mental and physical health. People notice a grateful heart. They gravitate toward them.

So, be grateful.

The second thing is to help others. In fact, be intentional about helping others. Everyone knows someone that needs a hand, whether it be in an organized setting such as a soup kitchen or food pantry or one on one where you work with someone. Share your knowledge and abilities. Find out what’s valuable to the other person. If you can’t help, find another person who can.

Helping others helps them, but it also helps me. I’ve found the most satisfying times of my life are centered around seeing someone else succeed. Help others, and you’ll get more out of it than you’ll ever get by hoarding your skills, thoughts, and actions.

Finally, I want to encourage you to have fun. Adults screw this up a lot. We get busy with life, work, and other clutter and forget that our lives are supposed to be fun. We have strict schedules and deadlines and forget to pay attention to our own needs.

Yes, there are things like taxes and other adult obligations that can rob your joy from time to time. So, change up your routine from time to time. Live in the moment by letting go of what you think you need. Try some new things or foods that seem strange.

You never know. You might find your next new hobby or skill. So have fun.

I told you I was really focused on three things today, but I actually pulled a fast one on you. See, I gave you three points, but I want to challenge you to think about the one common thread that pulled each of those points together. It’s technically my fourth point.

Do you know what it is?

It’s “other people.” See, you can’t be grateful unless someone pours into you. Having fun is better together, and I defy you to help others without someone else being involved. We need other people in our lives to have a fulfilling life.

We live in a digital age, and our dependence on technology often detaches us from others. We need that emotional connection. It’s a core part of who we are. We need each other and have never been meant to do life alone.

So, don’t go it alone. Make friends. Connect with relatives. Be there for others while you grow and become the person you will be. I wish you the best in this journey because, as far as you’ve come, you still have a long way to go.

Thank you.

Mike Throne is president and CEO of the Chillicothe Ross Chamber of Commerce. He also co-hosts the Feels Like Home podcast with his good friend Marty Ford. Look for it where you get your podcasts.