Highlights from some of the college commencement speeches around the country this month:
Dom Capers, Green Bay defensive coordinator, University of Mount Union (Ohio)
been 40 years since I was sitting out there, like you, wondering what
was next in my life. ... Last weekend, we held the NFL Draft. Next
weekend, we'll bring in our new draftees for orientation. Every year,
countless hours and millions of dollars are spent on the process. With
the technology we have today, there's a vast amount of information on
every prospect. Yet, every year, 50 percent of the prospects in the
first round of the draft fail. So, every year, as you go through this
and observe this, you realize the biggest and strongest and fastest
players are not always the most productive players in the NFL. You begin
to realize the intangibles of the player are just as important as the
What I'd like to share with you today is ... what I
think are critical to success in any profession. Number one, and maybe
the most important: Find something you love. Passion creates fuel. It
creates the burning desire to do what we love 'til we go to bed at
night. A passionate person with a little bit of talent will almost
always outperform a passive person with great talent. The second thing
is the law of compensation. The more you give, the more you get in
return. It's a simple principle, but it's amazing how many people never
figure it out ...
The next thing is what influences
success more than anything else. The biggest difference between those
who succeed and those who fail lies in the difference of their habits.
In the NFL, adversity is as common as the air you breathe. Have the
courage when things get tough to stick with your plan.
like to discuss surviving success. In my mind, this is the toughest
thing anyone has to deal with. We all know we have to pay a high price,
no matter what the process is, to be successful. One of my favorite
quotes is this: 'For every 10 people who can handle adversity, there is
only one who can handle success.' The downside of success is like a
virus. It is insidious. It's the master of the sneak attack. No matter
where you are in your career, the worst thing is to feel like you have
arrived. There's someone out there willing to do the little things,
ready to take your job.
In a few moments, you will
officially become the University of Mount Union graduating class of
2012. You certainly have the smarts. You certainly have the heart. Now,
it's up to you to decide how you want to use your talent. You're the
captain of your own ship.
Martin Sheen, actor, New England Institute of Technology
acting is what I do for a living, activism is what I do to stay alive. I
came through the sixties clinging to the absolute certainty that lost
causes are the only causes worth fighting for, and that nonviolence is
the only weapon to fight with ... No one has ever made a contribution of
any real worth without self-sacrifice, personal suffering and sometimes
E.J. Dionne, Washington Post writer, Allegheny College
great generations harness the good work done one-on-one, in local
communities, to larger movements for change in our nation and in our
world. They remember what the philosopher Michael Sandel has taught us,
that, "When politics goes well, we can know a good in common that we
cannot know alone." Your generation has a chance to get us beyond the
wreckage of the old culture wars and to sweep aside the debris of
prejudice on the grounds of race, gender and sexual preference. Your
generation has the opportunity to restore faith in public life and in
Never lose your desire to transform charity
into justice, division into civility, selfishness into generosity,
cynicism into hope.
Savannah Guthrie, "Today" show co-host and legal analyst, Hobart and William Smith College
best advice I got was from one of my old professors at the University
of Arizona. After I hemmed and hawed in his office for a while, he
looked at me and said, "Savannah, think big."
it was. The problem with all of us sometimes is we convince ourselves
of all the reasons we can't do something before we even try. We think
small, so that we might succeed at that small dream we set out for
ourselves in order to avoid failure. Think of what you might accomplish
if you directed all that compelling, forceful energy toward convincing
yourself why you can do it. In a nutshell, thinking big means conjuring
up a vision for yourself. It means taking time, being reflective, and
daring to visualize what it would look like if you could wave a magic
wand and be exactly where you wanted to be in five years, even if it
seems a little unrealistic at the moment. Look, we live in the real
world. I'm not suggesting you ... dream big dreams and refuse any
situation or opportunity in the meantime that doesn't live up to that
perfect ideal. What I am saying is: Think big for yourself. Dream big.
But then, be ready to start small.
In fact, that is exactly
how it works. You start small, and you work at the small thing like it
is the big thing. That's how you get the big thing.
Stuart Krieger, Hollywood screenwriter, State University of New York-Brockport
to recognize opportunities when they come at you. In 2001, I was
offered the chance to teach a class at the Peter Stark MFA Producing
Program at USC. I loved working with the students, got a lot of positive
feedback and found incredible joy in the experience at a time when my
writing career was slowing down. Jobs were getting harder to come by. I
was no longer the new kid in town. I wasn't the "flavor of the month."
By 2005, I was exhausted. Show business was an endless grind. The
thought of battling for jobs for another decade was really depressing.
had to change. So it did. One night, after my USC class, my wife said
to me "You know, you're really happy when you're teaching. Maybe you
should be doing more of that."
I took her words to heart,
met with a friend who had turned from producing to teaching and got
directed to a job site for aspiring professors. There I found a posting
for a tenure-track position in Writing for the Creative Arts at the
University of California, Riverside. I decided that was going to be my
next job. After an excruciating five-month process, I was hired in May
of 2006. I'm now a full tenured professor and, as of April 1, I'm the
chairman of the Department of Theatre, Film & Television. And I'm
the happiest I think I've ever been.
Why? Because I wasn't afraid to make a change when it was clearly time to shake things up.
this the path I ever thought I'd end up on? Nope. Was it part of my
original plan? Not even a little bit. But that train went moving by me
and I decided to hop on.
Ted Koppel, newsman, University of Massachusetts
than ever before, we live today in a world of instant reaction,
constant judgment and corrosive partisanship. Political debate is a
wonderful thing; but partisan shrieking is corrosive and destructive. If
we are to find solutions to the challenges we face, we have to relearn
the virtues of compromise. If we are going to deal intelligently with
the problems we confront, we need time to pause, to consider and
reflect. But our media, news and social, are intolerant of anything but
an instant response ... Rather than using information to illuminate the
world, though, we consume it like fuel. The more we burn, the faster we
go. The faster we go, the less we see and understand. We slow down only
for the accidents along the side of the road; and the biggest accident
still lies ahead.
Only, I fear, when that occurs -- only
when the combined impact of too many unemployed, too many foreclosures,
too much debt, exacerbated by two undeclared and unfunded wars; only
when the human and social costs of a crumbling education system and a
flawed health care system, leave us wondering where and why we lost our
footing as a nation, will we come to realize that WHAT is communicated
to us is vastly more important than the medium by which it is conveyed.
One day, most Americans will point at us in the news media and say:
"Why didn't you tell us? Why did you encourage all that bile and venom?
Why did you feed us all that trivial crap, when so many terrible things
were converging? And no one will be happy with the answer. Least of all,
those of us who offer it. "What we gave you," we will say, "is what you
At this critical juncture in your lives, then,
let me urge you -- no, let me implore you to want more. More substance,
more real information about important issues, more fairness, more
objectivity, more tolerance for views that differ from your own. You
have a truly magical array of media at your disposal. Use them well.
Hank Aaron, Hall of Fame baseball player, Marquette University
I passed by your campus many times, walking to County Stadium in 1954, my rookie year with the Milwaukee Braves. I had no car.
struggles is a part of life. You have to grow up, and to have a little
adversity never hurt anybody. In good times and bad times, you will be
expected to make the most of the educational opportunity you have been
given. I challenge you to hold fast to your dreams.
spring season of the year is the perfect time for the rebirth of dreams.
Like nature itself, spring gives us new hope and a new beginning. In
baseball, spring training represents a new season of hope and
anticipation of a new opportunity to win a championship. Likewise,
spring commencements provide new opportunities for you to continue to
climb the ladder of success. Your years of hard work and study here at
Marquette are cause for celebration.
The ultimate goal of
our lives is to develop our full potential and realize our dreams. For
most of us the realization of our dream requires a strong unyielding
commitment, hard work and determination. The 1921 Nobel Prize winner in
Literature, Anatole France, put it this way: "To accomplish great
things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also
And finally, I got a student's
graduation speech from Boston University. I really liked part of it, the
part this student, who is going to be a teacher, addressed to those who
taught him (well, I might add) that there will be more to his life than
Christopher "Douglas'' Bruno, School of Education, Boston University
few months ago, I had an interview with a consulting firm for
international education, an institute that places international
students, mostly from China and India, in American high schools. I knew
the company was looking for more of a businessman than an educator, so
in preparing for the interview, I figured that I would focus on my
expertise of the American education system and knowledge of unique types
of schools -- charter, pilot, magnet, etc. -- in order to show how I
could be of service to the company.
The first question of
the interview was just what I planned for: How could you help the
company despite no business background? I discussed my experience
tutoring at Boston Arts Academy, a pilot school focused both on rigorous
academics as well as different art forms such as acting, dancing,
singing and theater. As an employee of the firm, I argued, I wouldn't
just be placing these students aimlessly; I could, instead, work with
the students' interests and better find a charter, pilot, or independent
school whose mission connected with the student, giving them a
wonderful opportunity to showcase their individual strengths. So many
students at Boston Arts Academy loved going to school because it didn't
just focus on academics; it allowed them to pursue their artistic
ambitions for half of the day as well. My knowledge of these different
types of schools could provide that same individualized, positive
connection for dozens of international students, right?
I thought I nailed the answer. The interviewer? Not so much.
is a business," he said. "This is a for-profit organization. There is a
bottom line. To be frank, we're here to make money. We are businessmen,
Needless to say, I
didn't get the job. Reflection led me to recall a quote from the late
professor Dan Davis. In our last Social Studies Methods class our junior
year, his parting words were: "I know you will all do great in this
profession because you all have soul. If you didn't have soul, you'd be
The faculty has a collective understanding
that educators need to have this "soul" to foster a productive classroom
environment. Teaching, as we have been taught, is much more about
relationships with your students and passionately developing them into
active citizens than memorization, equations, names, dates, and most of
all making money and "the bottom line." I will leave you in the words of
my supervisor for my practicum, faculty member Gerry Murphy: "Some days
it will feel like the best profession in the world. Some days you would
rather be selling lampshades, but think about it. It's the only
profession in the world that influences every single other profession."