Commencement Address: Tweeted!

It's graduation season and Pat finds a way to handle a commencement address in 140 characters or less, sort of.  Read how she finds the best way to capture the attention of this year's graduates . . . 


It’s graduation season and many of us will be sweating in the sun or inside crowded auditoriums to celebrate this happy milestone that always features at least one speaker attempting to impart valuable advice to an audience often more interested in getting to the party afterward.

It’s not easy being a commencement speaker. You spend a great deal of time contemplating your words, practicing them and when the time comes, you suspect no one will remember what you say 10 minutes later.

There are exceptions, of course, and there also are websites offering entire speeches or pithy words of inspiration that can be borrowed for the occasion.

But I think the biggest hurdle is deciding the advice to offer.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit, having attended a few ceremonies recently and also having been assigned the task of composing a commencement speech for someone else. What message will resonate with young adults who think they already know everything?

My solution to capturing their attention? Twitter-length sound bytes with 140 characters maximum. Here’s the first bit of advice I attempted to share:

“Don’t let high school be the high point of your life. Many more wonderful opportunities await you -- if you’re open to them.”

There’s nothing sadder than someone who thinks high school was the high point of their life – or is still stuck in a high school mode of thinking. I wanted the graduates to believe their best days are ahead and what happens in high school shouldn’t limit—or define them.

I also figured their reaction would be: “Well, duh.”

Nonetheless, I persisted, while accepting that my next message might not be received well:

“Turning off the electronics may help you find your way.”

I recognized that at this point, the speaker might have lost the audience because everyone knows we need electronics to function in today’s world. But I also wanted them to know that we can miss a whole lot of that world if we’re looking at screens.

To paraphrase others, the answers to many questions often can be found in someone else’s face – but you can’t see them if you’re glued to a screen. You also can’t see the potential within yourself.

As insurance company CEO Joseph Plumeri told a college commencement audience last year:

“You can Google for an answer. You can Google for a mate. You can Google for a career. But you can’t Google to find what’s in your heart – the passion that lifts you skyward.”

There are a myriad of messages that could be conveyed to today’s graduates but if I could deliver just one, and was forced to do it in 140 characters or less, it would be this:

“People remember how you make them feel. Show up. Even if it’s inconvenient or hard, show up at weddings, deaths, births – and graduations.”

What would your message be?

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