SAN DIEGO – As they celebrate commencement at colleges around the country, graduates can expect to get the same gift: plenty of unsolicited advice from their elders.
They’ll have to separate the useful from the not-so-useful. Here’s a tip: The former is most often heard from commencement speakers who recognize that they are there for the students. The latter most often comes from speakers who get it twisted and think the students are there for them.
Some people use a commencement address to get political, as did Maria Elena Salinas when the Univision anchor told journalism graduates at California State University, Fullerton to utilize the media to confront divisive figures like Donald Trump. Ironically, Salinas’ remarks turned divisive when she seemed to dwell too long on Latino graduates and spoke a few phrases in Spanish, to the exclusion of non-Latinos and those who spoke English. After some in the audience booed and shouted obscenities, Salinas piled on the condescension when the journalist tweeted she was “sad” that “racism is on the rise.”
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Other commencement speakers lay out their blueprint for a better world, as did David Gergen when the CNN senior political analyst implored the graduates of Elon University in North Carolina to “stand up and be counted” against the “forces of political extremism” that produced the state’s House Bill 2. The so-called bathroom bill bans people from using restrooms that don’t match the sex indicated on their birth certificate. Gergen, who grew up in North Carolina, urged the students to “find common ground” and “work hard to respect the views of others” but ultimately to push for the repeal of HB2.
Having heard a few commencement speeches, and delivered a couple myself, I’m convinced that anyone with such a forum should remember – in between telling students that their opportunities are limitless – to work in a few lines about limitations. Graduates hear a lot about succeeding when what they could really use is a good sermon on failing.
I’ve had the blessings of good parenting and an education from one of the most prestigious universities in the world. And yet, my most important lessons have come from pain, disappointment, mistakes, heartbreak, and loss. It’s when I’ve been at my worst that I’ve been served the best.
Here are 25 things that I wish someone had told me at my own college graduation a quarter-century ago.
– Discover your passion and pursue it.
– Learn to say, “I don’t know.”
– Be grateful for all you have.
– Study people so you know why they do what they do.
– Value your family, treasure your friends.
– Collect your parents’ stories while you can.
– Be thoughtful to others.
– When you get something wrong, acknowledge it.
– Listen more, talk less.
– Keep your integrity intact.
– Don’t be afraid to change course.
– Question most of what you see, read or hear.
– Maintain your independence.
– When you’re knocked down, get back up and persevere.
– Make sure you control money, not the other way around.
– Listen for the knock of opportunity.
– Use common sense.
– Treat people with respect and dignity.
– Shuffle the deck and take risks now and then.
– Don’t think of yourself as being better, or worse, than anyone else.
– Don’t be self-centered.
– Hustle for what you want.
– Be careful whom you marry.
– Work to impact positively the lives of others.
– Speak your truth with conviction and without fear.
Here’s some truth for today’s graduates: Many people insist that this country’s best days are behind it. Those people are wrong.
I hear television commentators talk about how many of the voters who flock to Trump, or Bernie Sanders, are the victims of globalization. America has betrayed these voters, the pundits say. Their own country has broken a “promise” that if they worked hard and played by the rules, they’d be happy and successful – and their children even more so.
What total rubbish. There was never any such promise. This is where immigrants could teach the native-born a thing or two. Like this: America offers opportunity, not guarantees. You lose your job, you get another one or start your own business. You suffer a setback, you pick yourself up and press ahead. You don’t wallow in self-pity, and you never give up.
That’s not always the easy way. But it’s something better, more lasting and more satisfying. It’s called the American way.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com.