As the president of my local school board I have the pleasure of making remarks at the high school graduation. My commencement speaking experiences to date have all been higher education focused and I was wondering what would be the best message that I could deliver. Ultimately, I decided to say the following and I hope the message makes a positive difference:
Class of 2014, on behalf of the Board of Education, congratulations on your graduation. You have completed an important milestone and we are enormously proud of you.
Over the years, I have learned a lot about commencement ceremonies. Having attended more than 200 such ceremonies in total in my career (to date) and having been master of ceremonies for 150 of those ceremonies, I have learned the secret to being a successful commencement speaker and the secret regarding these ceremonies, both of which I will now pass on to you.
For commencement speakers and for speeches in general, the secret, as stated by President Franklin Roosevelt a long time ago is “Be brief, be sincere, be seated,” and I completely agree.
This is especially valuable advice given that in 99% of the ceremonies, the commencement speeches aren’t paramount. You are here for yourself, your friends and your family. The chances of remembering virtually all commencement addresses 5, 10, 15, 20 or more years down the road are equal to the chances that you will remember what you ate for breakfast on that same morning.
With all of this in mind, what can or should I say to you?
My brief message is to remember to say thanks.
Thanks to your family, loved ones, and friends for their support and for always being there. When the time comes, make sure you are there for others as well!
Thanks to your teachers and administrators for providing a first-rate education. We have prepared you well.
Thanks to our armed forces and to all those individuals who have and continue to support our democracy. Our system isn’t perfect; it’s just the best alternative.
Thanks to yourself for what you have accomplished to date and what you will still accomplish. Past performance is the best predictor of future performance, but not the only predictor. If you have done well, keep it up. If not, make that mid course correction that makes a difference. Now is the time. I was not a hard working high school student; I woke up in college and it certainly made all the difference. Educational accomplishment helps assure financial success and personal well-being. It is an important investment in yourself.
In conclusion, there is no need to remember what I said, or what you had for breakfast. Just say thanks to yourself for those jobs well done up to now and in the future. Thanks to those who have made and will continue to make that positive difference. And remember that you, too, should strive to make a difference. Congratulations and thanks!