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Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham is the editor of On Leadership and writes features for the section.

Transform your community

Question: 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.

Today you celebrate a high achievement, a mountain top in your life, and the beginning of a new day. As you begin this journey toward fulfilling your life’s purpose, take time to honor those on whose shoulders you stand, those who nurtured and guided you – your parents and grandparents, extended families and community. For you are only here because of their sacrifices and vision that one day you would get an education and be ready to make a contribution at an even higher level. In fact, to be leaders of the New Day that is dawning.

We must never forget where we came from, because in this is power, determination, fortitude and resiliency. That is why you have persevered and are here today to claim the great prize.

Today you join the privileged few: those in the world with a college education.  But we must remember that with this privilege comes responsibility. To whom much has been given, much will be expected. This call to service is the call to your greatness – to understand that leadership is not about privilege, money, status or position, but about the positive difference we will make in other people’s lives, in our communities and in our country.

As we celebrate our achievements, we also have great gratitude to those who have supported us and worked side by side with us: our professors, classmates and, yes, our Facebook friends. We humbly know that we have never accomplished anything alone and follow in the South African philosophy of Ubuntu – I am only a person because of other people.  Our journey thus far is a testament to the community of people who have guided and supported us. 

We know that just as our community has brought us this far, our future success depends on growing and nourishing an extended community of purpose with people who share our vision and aspirations for the future. Studies show that 60 percent of a leader’s success depends on their network of people, their community, those who will work with you to achieve your dreams. Continue to nourish and grow your circle of friends and community. They will sustain and encourage you so you will have courage, perseverance and vision to keep your eyes on the prize and to “keep on keeping on.”

Today you stand on the crest of a great movement of change – a wave that is gathering momentum. Your generation, the millennial generation, represents our diverse communities. You have been raised to believe in women’s equality, have a sense of social responsibility, thrive on connectivity, understand environmental stewardship and are strategically suited to be the leaders of the global community that is emerging.

The last century was marked by a profound transformation. Women started their road to freedom in the 1920s with the suffragettes, continued their empowerment as they ran the economy in World War II, and fought for equality in the feminist movements of the 60’s and 70’s. Today women are not only the majority in this college but in all colleges across America, and in law schools and medical schools as well. Women make up 51 percent of the workforce, 25 percent of managers.

In this century, the most profound transformation will be that by 2050 America will be a kaleidoscope nation – a beautiful mosaic. There will no longer be a dominant culture. You who are graduating today will be the leaders of this new society. You will transform America to live up to its founding values of equality, justice, pluralism and the common good for all its people.  

In the Hispanic tradition someone embarking on a journey, a new venture or new stage in life would be given a bendición or blessing. American Indians would pray that your ancestors and spirits will guide you. African Americans might sing a traditional hymn followed by a communal prayer and a collective heartfelt Amen.

And so following in these traditions, may you be supported and nurtured in your journey. May you achieve those visions and dreams for which you aspire. May you walk hand in hand with friends and companions. And may you never lose sight of leadership as service and social responsibility. May you will walk with courage and in beauty into this new day that is dawning! Fare thee well. Fare thee well.

This piece is adapted in part from an address Juana Bordas gave at Union Institute.

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

Juana Bordas  | May 2, 2011 6:15 PM

 
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