Some of the Best Tips for the Class of 2018 Graduates

May 25, 2018

By Molly Congdon

This year’s crop of college commencement speakers was the usual eclectic and distinctive assemblage, ranging from politicians and industrial engineers to talk-show hosts and even a superhero. What set this year’s best speakers apart was that they cut out the cliches and provided heartfelt and inspiring advice during this time of great change. Some even revealed truths, ugly and beautiful, helpful in the battle we call life:

Be Fearless, Even When No One is Watching

“The time is always right to do right.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s easy to do the right thing or work hard when others are around to praise you for your efforts; it’s a great deal harder to do so just for the sake of doing it.

This tip was the highlight of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s address to Duke undergraduates.

19747109782_53e1061d2e_k.jpg“Our country is deeply divided — and too many Americans refuse to hear any opinion that differs from their own,” he said.  “Our planet is warming with devastating consequences—and there are some who deny it’s even happening. Our schools and communities suffer from deep inequality—we fail to guarantee every student the right to a good education. And yet we are not powerless in the face of these problems. You are not powerless to fix them.”

“If you hope to change the world, you must find your fearlessness…Fearlessness means taking the first step, even if you don’t know where it will take you.  It means being driven by a higher purpose, rather than by applause. It means knowing that you reveal your character when you stand apart, more than when you stand with the crowd. More importantly, you’ll be able to tackle the big things when they come your way. It’s in those truly trying moments that the fearless inspire us.”

Be The Good Man In The Storm, Just Do It

“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” — Albert Einstein

Of all the superheroes, it has always been clear that the most incredible was Batman. The others had great strength, speed and power, but Batman was just a regular rich guy (with some stellar martial arts skills and nifty tech toys), a good man in a storm.

 “I’m going to ask you to be respectful and always think of the other guy,” said Dr. Michael Keaton. “Be generous, be fair, be courageous, be yourself.”

And he went out with a bang: “I’ve got two words that I want you all to remember, ‘I’m Batman.’”

Uncover the Truth

“No legacy is so rich as honesty.” — William Shakespeare

The opportunity to build a better tomorrow starts with honesty.

Oprah Winfrey told the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication graduates:

"The truth exonerates, and it convicts. It disinfects, and it galvanizes. The truth has always been and will always be our shield against corruption our shield against greed and despair the truth is our saving grace. And not only are you here to tell it, to write it, to proclaim it, to speak it, but to be it. Be the truth. Be the truth."

You’re Going to Feel Lost and Vulnerable:

“Not all those who wander are lost” — J.R.R. Tolkien

We are constantly fooled by the illusion that successful people are completely put together, have no weaknesses, and never, ever feel consumed with loneliness and despair. This is folly. At some point, we all are rattled by uncertainty and paralyzing powerlessness.

Ronan Farrow, the journalist who unearthed Harvey Weinstein’s decades of alleged sexual predation, spoke to Loyola Marymount University seniors with words that were honest and moving. 

“I know that hearing a generous introduction like the one I just got…Hearing about people the way they’re introduced as commencement speakers…The way the media talk about them, after the work is done… it’s easy for it to all seem kind of fancy. Like it was always so neat and packaged, tied up with a ribbon … But I wanted to take a moment to talk about what it’s like trying to do work you believe in before the moment of impact …”

“I want to tell you about a simpler and more personal side of the story. One that, without a doubt, each and every one of you will experience your own version of in the coming years. A story that could have happened not just to a journalist but to an engineer or a foreman or a teacher or a doctor or a professor or a miner. The reality is, I was not celebrated when I set about breaking these stories I broke this past year … the reality is my career was on the rocks. And as a result of tackling this story as doggedly as I did, it fell apart almost completely.”

“And I wish I could tell you I was confident,” he said. “That I was sure of myself. That I didn’t care, or that I said, ‘to hell with it.’ And look, if there’s ever a movie I’m sure there’ll be some moment where an actor smirks and lowers his shades and says, ‘Over my dead body I’ll stop that reporting’ and swaggers out of the room. … But the real version of this is that I was heartbroken, and I was scared, and I had no idea if I was doing the right thing.”

He told the Class of 2018 that at some point they, too, will face a moment when they don’t know how to go on. When that time comes, he said, “trust that inner voice.”

It’s OK to Fail But Not To Quit

“You just can’t beat the person who won’t give up.” — Babe Ruth

To err is human. The test of greatness is whether, in the face of error, adversity and failure, we can summon the will to rise again.  

FIFA World Cup Champion and Gold Medal Olympian, Abby Wambach told graduates at Barnard College: Failure is not something to be ashamed of, it’s something to be powered by. Failure is the highest octane fuel your life can run on. You gotta learn to make failure your fuel … We must embrace failure as our fuel instead of accepting it as our destruction.”

CNBC anchor and The Street founder Jim Cramer told the graduates of Bucknell University, “It’s OK to fail, but it’s not OK to quit — you have more strength within you, both physical and mental, than you know.”

Hillary Clinton offered similar guidance at Yale: “Everyone gets knocked down, what matters is whether you get up and keep going … you will make mistakes in life, you will even fail, it happens to all of us no matter how qualified and capable we are. Take it from me.”