Inspiring Life Lessons to Take Beyond Graduation

Guest Correspondence

Image from Pixabay

The end of the school year signals the season of the traditional commencement speech.

Nobody sets out to be cliched and boring. It’s fair to say that most people who are invited to give commencement speeches strive to be clever, wise and memorable in the dispensing of wisdom to the next generation.

Even so, high school and college graduates waiting impatiently to turn their tassels from right to left can be understood for hoping for a brief, lively speech.

I’ve heard a number of commencement speeches, and certain ones stood out and withstood the test of time. Notable speakers reminded graduates of key attributes they could embody and take with them as they transition to the next phase of their life’s journey, and they gave examples of people’s stories to connect their sincere advice to real life lessons.

I have been thinking about the inspiring life lessons imparted by 35 local high school seniors, this year’s STRIVE award recipients, who shared personal stories of how they overcame obstacles to succeed in high school and prepared to succeed in life. (Go to EdFoundationSRQ.org/STRIVE-Awards for columns and videos.)

Venice High School graduate Kaela Coye, for example, epitomizes the power of positivity in accepting what she can’t change (a stutter) and turning an obstacle that literally could have silenced her into an opportunity to connect with and help others.

In particular, I noticed how the attributes embodied by Kaela and other STRIVE award recipients can be condensed into a unified commencement speech showcasing the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and teachable moments that can be valuable to us all at whatever point we are in life’s journey.

These students inspire immense hope in and for our next generation. Some salient tenets pulled from their examples are offered below:

  • Think for yourself. Be smart and courageous to stand by your convictions and beliefs, even in the face of adversity. There will come a day when you may be the only person in a group who wants to go left when everyone else goes right. Stand strong. Speak up and follow your instincts.  
  • Seize the day. Carpe Diem! Time is a limited resource, so make the most of it. Don’t put off tomorrow what can be done today. Take the time to give a hug, say “I love you,” help a friend. Take action. Run, go, decide, and become the amazing person you know you are.
  • Keep the faith. Trust yourself. There will be mountains and valleys, victories and defeats, prosperity and hardship, sickness and health, joy and sadness. Through all of life’s ups and downs, remember you matter and are capable of doing much more than you initially might think you can do. To quote from the movie, “Finding Dory”: “When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.”
  • Fail forward. It’s far more rewarding to try and fail than never to try at all. Personal growth comes best when you are able to learn from your mistakes and have the tenacity to keep at it. Life isn’t always easy, but it is rewarding. When Thomas Edison was asked how it felt to fail 1,000 times before he invented the light bulb, he said, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
  • Actively listen. We have two ears and only one mouth for a reason. Listen before speaking. A wise person knows how to control his/her tongue, so remember to be slow to speak and slow to anger.
  • Have an “attitude of gratitude”. Be thankful for all things, the large and small. Count your blessings, and bless others, too, by paying it forward. The act of giving truly will open your eyes and expand your heart and mind beyond what you can imagine.
  • Laugh often. It’s good for your health. Laughing also builds relationships, decreases stress, increases happiness, and gives levity to life. It’s free, fun, and contagious.
  • Uphold high values. Integrity, honor, humility, and courage are your life’s armor. Wear them with steadfast commitment. No one can take them from you, and people will remember you for them.
  • Reach for the stars. Aim high and go for it! Believe in yourself. Don’t let your potential go untapped. Stretch yourself and you will be amazed at how much you will grow and how far you can reach.
  • Remember your encouragers. It could be one person or an organization that helped you get to this important milestone. They believed in you. Remember to thank them. The best way to repay them is to keep giving them a reason to be proud of you.  

All of us at the Education Foundation of Sarasota County send all graduating seniors of the Class of 2021 our heartfelt congratulations and best wishes for a future filled with purpose, self-fulfillment, and long-lasting success.

Jennifer Vigne is President and CEO of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

Image from Pixabay

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