Why May Is Inspiration Month
Thanks to technology, Every May, we can all be inspired by commencement speeches from across the globe. In every corner of the world, a tradition of University graduation ceremonies that feature an inspirational speech to the members of the graduating class can be witnessed by anyone with access to devices and broadband. For people who like to watch TED talks online, the month of May has become inspiration month, as they have ready access to speeches from the graduation ceremonies of thousands of Colleges and Universities. More of what our consumption society loves – free and easy. In this case access to inspiration.
For the graduation speaker though, free and easy would not quite describe the task of putting together such a speech. In many ways, it is hard to boil one’s life experience into deeply felt and concise advice for those who are graduating. After accepting the assignment, months in advance, there comes a moment when the speaker understands what they are being entrusted with. For the University, the speech will come to represent the capstone wisdom that is being provided by the University to the class of graduates. In many or most cases, Universities are also awarding the speaker with an honorary degree which is an honor that adds weight to the importance of the invitation, and carries with it an expectation of a deeper speech with highly personal wisdom to be imparted.
Commencement speeches in the digital age have a permanence that was not the case just 25 years ago. They are now, in a sense, a part of our epitaph. Consider the Stanford graduation speech of Steve Jobs. It remains among the most widely seen 15 minutes of all of his public comments – and he spent a lifetime making big events out of public comments. In the speech, like many commencement speeches, he shares his journey – notably the perseverance it took to get to that podium. His speech is a great example of how the world gets exposed to the true stories – the ones that with real introspection, are always more about effort than talent, and the GRIT that it takes in the face of deep challenge, to achieve big things.
I had the opportunity to witness a great commencement speech in person this weekend by Carolyn Everson of Facebook, and to have watched Sheryl Sandberg’s online. They were both uniformly honest, hopeful, and powerful speeches. It was a good reminder of the deep preparation, soul searching, and care with which commencement speakers craft their speech. Learning is a lifetime endeavor, and a commencement speech is an incredibly efficient way to receive the essentialized wisdom of a single human being. What a gift, not just on the day we graduate, but every May.
You can find great commencement speeches online. Some lists have political slants, but if you can get past all of that, there are a few concentrated places to find great commencement addresses.