Once college caps are airborne, it is easy for graduates to forget the sage words offered by commencement speakers. J.K. Rowling admitted in her 2008 commencement speech at Harvard that she did not remember her own commencement speaker Baroness Mary Warnock’s address. While it is natural to forget, some things are worth remembering like the advice offered by the following commencement speakers:
1. “Ban self-doubt,” Jennifer Lee, The University of New Hampshire, 2014
Jennifer Lee graduated from UNH in 1992 and went on to become the first woman to direct an animated feature film for Walt Disney Animation Studios. She wrote and co-directed Disney’s Frozen and is the first female director to have a film surpass the $1 billion earning mark.
Because I graduated from UNH this May, I was able to hear Lee live as she imparted these words of wisdom: “When you are free from self-doubt, you fail better because you don’t have your defenses up, and you can accept criticism and listen. You don’t become so preoccupied with that failure […] that you forget how to learn and how to grow. When you believe in yourself, you succeed better. Hours spent doubting, questioning, fearing can be given to working, exploring, and living. […] Please know from here on out that you are enough, and dare I say, more than enough.”
2. “Try to Be Kinder” by George Saunders, Syracuse University, 2013
George Saunders graduated from the Colorado School of Mines in 1981. Saunders is a writer of short stories, essays, novellas, screenplays, and children’s books. In 2001, he was selected by Entertainment Weekly as one of 100 top most creative people in entertainment. In 2006, Saunders received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the MacArthur Fellowship (“Genius Grant”) for writing.
In Saunders’s convocation speech, reprinted by The New York Times, he states: “What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly. Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet.”
3. “Make Good Art” by Neil Gaiman, The University of the Arts, 2012
Neil Gaiman did not attend college. Instead, he went out into the world and wrote comic books (including The Sandman series), young adult books (including Stardust and Coraline, both of which were made into movies), and novels. Gaiman has also been honored with countless writing awards, including four Hugos, two Nebulas, and four Bram Stoker Awards.
In his speech to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Gaiman shared that “Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art. […] Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art.”
Although the world may, at times, seem frightening, intimidating, and mean, remembering the wisdom imparted by the above speakers will fortify any new or old, disenchanted graduate to face the world with kindness, confidence, and skill.