Stay out of the clouds
You've been asked to give a commencement speech to this year's college graduates about their role as future leaders. Give us the two or three key paragraphs from your address.
Three simple things
A year ago, I sat where you sit today, my commencement gown dragging across the muddy quad, a funny hat on my head that was surely a holdover from before mirrors existed, and a shiny diploma congratulating me in Latin. I sat before my commencement speaker brimming with excitement for things to come. Yes, I had been told that nary a graduation speaker would offer advice I hadn’t already heard, but clinging to the idealism that carried me through my four years, I sat on the edge of my seat with hope that the naysayers would be proven wrong. Yet, sadly, they were so terribly right. The speaker (who shall remain unnamed) delivered what could only be described as a “dud.” His canned advice twisted and turned, his metaphors lacked depth, and his final line— “Go change the world”—left the crowd with a feeling he had written his remarks on the plane, and simply run out of things to say.
So I come to you today with a lesson for all commencement speakers. That is this: Keep it simple, and stay out of the clouds. With that, I offer you three, very simple, concrete and hopefully actionable words of advice as you go off and “change the world,” as an imprecise Nobel Laureate once said.
First, be nimble. You might be as certain as tomorrow is Saturday that you want to be a pediatrician, a corporate lawyer, a social worker, a consultant, a politician, a diplomat, an actor, a fill-in-the-blank. I can tell you with the utmost certainty that the future is filled only with uncertainty, and the demands of the world, as well as your own priorities, will shift and transmutate in ways you can’t yet imagine. Of course, it’s wise to plan in advance, but it’s unwise to set yourself and your career in stone as the world evolves. I look out today at a group of young adults equipped with intellectual firepower, internal confidence and the privilege of a college degree—no matter the state of the economy or of a certain industry, those qualities I just mentioned will always be in demand.
Second, be happy. What? That sounds about as sage and concrete as “go change the world.” But I highlight “be happy” because it is so incredibly key to your success. A generation ago, the notion that we should do what we love as a profession was downright greedy. But the world has changed, and it’s OK—even encouraged—to seek out the opportunities that deeply satisfy you. It’s a rather intuitive idea, to do what makes you happy, because happiness begets passion, and passion drives the hard work that the world needs to realize positive change. Trust me, there will be jobs you have that aren’t perfect, that don’t give you a deep sense of satisfaction. For 99.9 percent of us out there, this is a fact of life. When you find yourself in that situation, ask yourself: Am I doing my best, most inspired work? My guess is the answer will be a resounding NO. Do what makes you happy—the motivation and rewards will come naturally.
Finally, embrace the chaos. Remember your college schedule? Wake up, go to class, hit the library, pick a major, graduate. You all, more or less, have had just about the same end point, the same north star—your graduation from college—for just about your entire lives. Now comes the fun part. Complete and utter choice. I’ve got news for you: Choice can be downright terrifying. I implore you, though, as you face all the many options, uncertainty and fear that will likely confront you in the next few years, remember that the choices you make are yours to own, and there is no handbook, no recipe, no professor and no dean to tell you what success, happiness and satisfaction look like.
So notice the chaos ahead, put your shoulder into it, and enjoy. -Jeremy Rogoff, Coro New York Fellow
You can now lead, but how will you inspire?
As someone who has been out of college for a number of years and who has worked professionally with individuals who have demonstrated both good and bad leadership, I feel it is important to share my insights with you so that, as you move forward in whatever career you choose, you can be grounded in the knowledge that good leadership can be seen and appreciated by those around you.
Those who exhibit great leadership do so in a way that acknowledges the individuals who they are leading. They listen to ideas and are willing to question their own beliefs. They are able to connect with people from all different backgrounds, not because they have to but because they have a genuine desire to learn and engage with the world around them. The people who I have seen exhibit great leadership are also willing to make the tough choices even when it might alienate those whose confidence he or she has gained through thoughtful listening and collaboration.
When you leave this room, each of you will follow very different paths. Some of you may work in government; others may work in private industry or even in the nonprofit sector. But I want you to know that each of you can be leaders in your own right. In your work and in your community. You will come to realize that leadership styles will vary from one person to the next, and you will find a style that works for you. When you do, don’t be afraid to use that leadership to stand up for what you believe in. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to lead. - Edit Ruano, Coro San Francisco Fellow
Reflections from the outside: One year after undergrad
Don’t be afraid to struggle: You have just graduated from college. Do not feel entitled to a smooth job search process, or even landing THE ideal job.
Over and over, I have heard about how so many from our generation are spoiled, expecting to be handed secure employment or be in positions of high-level decision-making. The struggle to find those positions is undoubtedly part of our ongoing growth process. These next few years are for character building, understanding how we operate in the working world and further self-exploration. Yes, it doesn’t end in college. For many of us, this is a time to prove to the working world that we are capable of being in positions of leadership. Our educational credentials alone do not and should not automatically allow us to abstain from critical life experiences. This leads me to my next point...
Pay your dues: Sure, you might have been the president of the student body or perhaps amassed an array of impressive resume-boosting internships. But for the last four years, you have lived within a neatly contained bubble, spending hours in classes classifying social phenomena or leadership dilemmas into discrete categories. In actuality, the challenges our leaders face are riddled with uncertainty and almost always dealt with in unfriendly terrain. Accept that you do not know everything and open yourself to experiences that will push your comfort level. Expand your perspective with grounded experiences that will enable you to lead practically and with informed idealism. - Eric Sanabria, Coro San Francisco Fellow
View all panel responses to our discussion about the best words of wisdom to give this year’s graduates. 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
| May 12, 2011 10:23 AM