9 Life Lessons from 2016 Commencement Speeches

“There is no script. Live your life. Soak it all in.” Dick Costolo, University of Michigan in 2013

“I encourage you to live with life. Be courageous, adventurous. Give us a tomorrow, more than we deserve.” Maya Angelou, University of California Riverside in 1977

Introduction: Each spring  semester, University systems have  graduation ceremonies along with commencement speakers to give advice about life ahead for our graduating students. We can all use such life lessons as a guidepost for what to do or what to expect with our lives. For some of you, these ‘pearls of wisdom’ may serve as as a reminder to what you’ve already (possibly/probably) experienced. There are three parts to this post: Part 1 gives some notable advice from various 2016 Commencement speeches; Part 2 is using this advice living in the presence of Parkinson’s; and Part 3 is a reflection on two graduation ceremonies I attended.

Part 1: 9 Life Lessons from 2016 Commencement Speeches Presented as a Chart (please click here to view/download a full-size version: 16.06.01.Graduation Life Lessons).
16.06.01.Graduation Life Lessons

Part 2: Using the 9 Life Lessons Living with Parkinson’s.

  1. Resilience and Persistence. “When the challenges come, I hope you remember that anchored deep within you is the ability to learn and grow. You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are — and you just might become the very best version of yourself.Sheryl Sandberg (COO Facebook), University of California at Berkeley
    A thriving daily life with Parkinson’s requires both resilience and persistence to resist its constant negative forces. Life (at times) can be a challenge, but challenges can be met with steadfastness/determination from a resilient and persistent attitude.

  2. Mindfulness. “In those moments when you’re doing something that could be life-changing, whether it’s in space, or in your career, you need to constantly remind yourselves that there is nothing more important than what you’re doing right now.Scott Kelly  (retired NASA astronaut), University of Houston
    Losing sleep over what happened with your disorder yesterday is no doubt difficult; but it’s better to dwell in the present moment and neither fret over yesterday nor dread about what may come tomorrow. You control the current moment, please practice mindfulness.
  3. Embrace The Unexpected. Don’t be so focused in your plans that you are unwilling to consider the unexpected.Senator Elizabeth Warren, Bridgewater State University
    Consider your disorder, you must be able to embrace this unexpected turn in your life and manage the best you can. Personalize your disorder and understand its nuances on you; then you will be able to successfully navigate life in its daily presence.

  4. Care Is Investing In Others. Care is as important as career. … Career is investing in yourself. Learning, growing, and building on the education you received here. Care is investing in others. It is learning like a gardener, or a teacher, or a coach, what to do and what not to do to enable others to grow and flourish.” Anne Marie Slaughter (President and CEO of New America), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    Yes, a career is important; however, caring and investing in others will be equally valuable over the course of your life. The caring for others allows you to approach life with open arms and not be afraid to ask for help when the time is needed.
  5. Mistakes Will Happen. “Every stumble is not a fall, and every fall does not mean failure. Know the next right move when the mistake happens. Because being human means you will make mistakes. And you will make mistakes, because failure is God’s way of moving you in another direction.” Oprah Winfrey (American media proprietor and philanthropist), Johnson C. State University
    Clearly, we’ve all made mistakes and likely even failed at something before. Within the framework of having Parkinson’s, just keep trying to do the things you were doing before the diagnosis. You may falter more frequently now with the disorder but it really is the effort that counts.

  6. Kindness. “We like to feel we are civilized. How do you measure that? The usual versions look at science, technology, wealth, education, happiness. Every measure fails, except one. There is one measure of civilization and it comes down to how people treat each other. Kindness is the basic ingredient.” William Foege (American epidemiologist who devised the global strategy that led to the eradication of smallpox), Emory University
    This reminds me of the Golden rule, which says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  The cornerstone of kindness is simple but true; be kind and honorable to others, the rest will take care of itself.

  7. Turn No Into Yes. When life tells you no, find a way to keep things in perspective. That doesn’t make the painful moments any less painful… You don’t have to live forever in that no. Because if you know what you’re capable of, if you’re always prepared, and you keep things in perspective, then life has a way of turning a no into yes.” Russell Wilson  (NFL starting quarterback), University of Wisconsin
    Within you lies the same person you were before Parkinson’s; thus, you should remember what you are clearly capable of doing. Go ahead and see for yourself,  yes  is still occurring with the disorder and likely outweighs the no in terms of frequency.

  8. Life-long Learner. “The secret to success is not rocket science. It just requires true dedication and a willingness to go the extra mile…. Let’s put it this way: I know of no Nobel Prize winner who has stopped studying.” Michael Bloomberg (former Mayor of New York City), University of Michigan
    Your lessons of life continue to accumulate. Get to know your disorder and stay educated about it. The more up-to-date you become about Parkinson’s the better you will be prepared in terms of living years in the future.

  9. Live Every Day. “Live with the understanding of how precious every single day would be. How precious every day actually is” Sheryl Sandberg (COO Facebook), University of California at Berkeley
    Your life-contract begins when you wake up each morning, and it’s reassessed fully as you fall asleep each evening. Please stay hopeful, positive, courageous and cherish each day even with your disorder, appreciate each day as it occurs.

Part 3: Two UNC-CH Graduation Ceremonies, May 2016.  We have our graduation ceremonies on Mother’s Day weekend. Besides the graduates themselves, equally involved are immediate/extended families, loved ones and friends.  Receiving a degree of any distinction (e.g., BA/BS, MA/MS, MD, or PhD) is an achievement. Everyone deserves congratulations.  For me, participating in the School of Medicine ceremony [where I get to sit on the stage and wear my regalia  (please note the medical school pictures below are from last year because I forgot my cell phone this year) and watching the Department of Biology ceremony are very proud and joyful times seeing everyone graduate (and moving on to the next life-phase).

My Graduation Advice: On the last day of my undergraduate Biology class, I give advice to the graduating seniors (and it’s based on these four points):

  1. Dreams and hard work will make a difference, over time.
  2. Think about now and in the future, what makes you happy?
  3. Listen to others, seek their advice, keep listening, keep thinking.
  4. Family and real friends will always be there for you, always.

Graduation weekend signifies both an ending and a beginning. It is a completion of a cycle for many students graduating; and it states that soon we begin again with a brand-new set of students. Ultimately, to me graduation signifies a feeling of hope, determination, and renewal.  These graduation ceremonies bolster my resistance against my Parkinson’s.  I am already looking forward to next year’s events.

“There is nothing more beautiful than finding your course as you believe you bob aimlessly in the current. And wouldn’t you know that your path was there all along, waiting for you to knock, waiting for you to become. This path does not belong to your parents, your teachers, your leaders, or your lovers. Your path is your character defining itself more and more every day.” Jodie Foster, University of Pennsylvania in 2006

References:
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2016-05-27/the-best-commencement-speech-of-2016
http://www.people.com/article/commencement-addresses-2016
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/column-the-5-best-pieces-of-advice-from-2016-commencement-speeches/
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2016/05/27/the-best-commencement-speeches-you-may-have-missed/
http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/2016/05/20/Best-Advice-Commencement-Speeches-2016
http://www.inc.com/laura-garnett/the-most-inspirational-commencement-speeches-of-2016.html
https://www.entrepreneur.com/slideshow/275897#1
http://onpoint.wbur.org/2016/05/16/best-of-2016-commencement-speeches
https://www.themuse.com/advice/35-inspirational-graduation-quotes-everyone-should-hear

Cover photo credit: https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.dth/17887_0512_graduation2_zhango.jpg

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