Obama gives graduation advice to Tennessee high school class


President Obama delivered the commencement address at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis on Monday, May 16, 2011. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

In his speech, the president told students “every commencement is a day of celebration,” and that “this one’s especially hopeful because some people say that schools like BTW just aren’t supposed to succeed in America.” The address moved from an administration-esque statement on the importance of improving U.S. education to more personal reflections on what he shared in common with the graduating class. “Education made all the difference in my life,” Obama said, also adding, “Not a single one of you had anything handed to you on a silver platter. You had to work for it. You had to earn it. ...You’ve shown more determination and grit in your childhoods than a lot of adults ever will.”

The president’s most succinct piece of graduation wisdom may have come toward the end of his speech, when he said “the greatest rewards come not from instant gratification but from sustained effort and hard work,” and when, quoting student Christopher Dean, he told the class “it’s not where you are or what you are, but who you are.”

Since graduation season is in full swing and the president isn’t the only one standing before a graduating class doling out sage words, we asked a panel of leadership experts what they think the best advice is you can give a future generation of leaders. Read all the responses to our discussion about graduation wisdom, but here are some of them:

Alan Webber: Do everything on purpose

Marie Wilson: Help a country hungry for its heart

Angel Cabrera: Do good!

Juana Bordas: Transform your community

John Baldoni: Believe in what you can achieve

George Reed: Care enough to lead

Amy Fraher: Commit to ethical thinking

Carol Goman: Rewire your brain

Lillian Cunningham is the editor and feature writer for The Washington Post's 'On Leadership' section.

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