My Graduation Speech

Before the text of the speech below, here are some trips through graduation memory lane...

High School Graduation, June 2000


(had my hair short and dyed dark that year)


Bachelor Degree Graduation, May 2004




Masters Degree Graduation, June 2011

(more photos below)

Our last day in school was 9 days ago, last Wednesday. On that day many of us gathered in the Botanical Gardens afterwards to soak up the sun, drink some champagne, and enjoy each others’ company in celebrating that we were completely finished with our masters degrees. For many of us, life hasn’t been too difficult since then.

The last few days have been one of those precious and rare spans of time that could be called “the in-between”. We have finished this season of learning, and this week, we awaited our thesis grades and our graduation ceremony. We await the next step, be it summer trips, summer jobs, and/or jobs that await us in the fall. Since last Wednesday you could find some of us drinking gin and tonics in the park, lounging in the sun and eating ice cream at the beach, bike riding through the countryside, visiting family, taking short trips out of town or even out of the country to visit old friends or see new sites, or eating jordgubbstĂ„rta and playing Kubb to celebrate Sweden’s National Day.

I have looked around at my friends this week, thinking a lot about them during these days where we get to act like there are few cares in the world as we await the next step. Around me are people who, after today, will soon have positions with a lot responsibility in big organizations, become management consultants for international companies, become PhD students, go on running their own companies, and many are unsure what the next step is but are hopeful and working towards it.

We are adults with advanced degrees, and though we have these days of lazily drinking in the sun and soaking up the greens and blues of the Swedish summer, I think it it’s safe to say that many of us have high expectations for ourselves, and also, we have sense that the world around us does as well.

I give a lot of credit to the professors of our program for not allowing us to overidealize the jobs and working environments that so many of us are headed for, emphasizing the ambiguity and identity crises of consulting work, the conflicting responsibilities of a manager, and the uphill battles that HR departments face. But there is otherwise a certain prevailing sense that graduate students encounter that says that this is the time in our lives when we are equipped to, and should, carpe diem; truly, seize the day. If there were ever a time to achieve, to shine, to overwork ourselves, we should be doing it now.

I looked up popular graduation quotes this week and found the following ones to be quite common, found on most every site:

1) “All that stands between the graduate and the top of the ladder is the ladder.”

2) “You are educated. Your certification is in your degree. You may think of it as the ticket to the good life. Let me ask you to think of an alternative. Think of it as your ticket to change the world.”

3) “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.”

4) The last one is from an event earlier this semester to promote a career fair, put on by other students, where they brought in a climbing wall for people challenge each other on, had the tagline that went something like, “Do you dare to reach the top in your career?”

Before I make my own point, I want to say that there isn’t anything specifically wrong with these quotes, each on their own. They are meant to encourage those who may need encouraging and are faced with uncertainty. Those who tell us to dream big, to reach the top, or change the world... They know that the world needs this. They want nothing other than for people to reach their full potential.

But I think that to move out into the world beyond higher education, and to live fully and joyfully over the decades to come, we need to hold some messages closer than others.

First of all, there is just one life for each of us: our own. That’s also a quote, the oldest one of them all from an Ancient greek writer, Euripides, and I think it carries more weight than any of the previous ones I’ve mentioned. There is only one life for each of us. There were so many times, when we were at the company that we wrote our thesis on, where Katja and Andrea and I were asked, as we sat in row, what our plans were after finishing school. The three of us would answer, one by one. The paths that we are each taking are vastly different from each others, despite graduating from the same program today. We would be in error to compare ourselves. This may seem like a redundant lesson, “don’t compare yourself, live your own life” but I see evidence all around that it is a constantly needed one.

When I graduated with my bachelor degree several years ago, I stayed in the lovely beach town where I’d been studying to live and work. I had many friends from school who, within the couple years after we’d graduated, went off around the world to do some pretty exciting things, like promoting reconciliation in the Northern Ireland conflicts, working with AIDS relief in South Africa, and teaching English in Thailand. One time I was talking with a friend about how I admired these people and that person said, with, I believe, a completely genuine heart and attempt to encourage, “But Corinne, there’s so much for you to do as well, I want to see you get to live out your life too!” I was a bit indignant after hearing that, and felt a bit misunderstood. I was living out my life. I was living in a beautiful town that I loved, working a job that I liked well enough, and deepening relationships with the friends that lived in the area in the more mature way that comes with your post-college days. I was also paying back some serious loans from university, and couldn’t afford to travel like some could at that time. But I was very pleased with my life, and believed very sincerely that I was right where I was supposed to be and doing what I was supposed to do, as humble as might have seemed compared to what many of my fellow graduates were doing. It seemed that a few people I knew (and not always those who were doing these big things) assumed that to take full advantage of your education, your strengths, and to make a difference meant that one should do big things on a global scale, even at the young age of 24. I admired my friends, but if I had compared my life to theirs, I would have seriously diminished my own happiness, and possibly have hindered my own progression forward.

There are a couple friends of mine from the States who have expressed that they wished they were doing what I’ve been doing this year; living and getting a masters degree abroad in a beautiful European country. But there is always a reason to compare, and for all of us, including myself, I know there are people that we know, friends or family, that we compare ourselves to. Many of us wonder if we’re doing the right thing, if we’re doing enough, if we should be settling down more or if we’re too settled down.

For people who graduate with a masters in business, especially from a university like Lund, I know that comparison is common and practically inescapable.

So how can we simply live our own lives, and live them well? What shall we aspire to do, whether we dream of changing the world or climbing to the top of our careers or whether we just dream of being happy- however that may look like?

I believe that it lies in thinking about our lives as a story. The story need not be one grand narrative, but possibly a collection of related ones. It is not about making our lives dramatic, super adventurous, and movie-like. It’s about making them meaningful.

We remember our lives and pass on what has an impact on us with both moments and stories. These are parallel to show and tell, or photos and journals.

Moments leave a specific type of impression on us, whether it’s something funny, hard, sad or joyful. There were some incredible moments I will never forget this year with many of you, from our first sittning as a class, where we took off our shoes and they were mixed up then placed on each chair to determine our seating arrangements, to writing our first home exam where I and others were literally banging our heads on notebooks in frustration, to our Australia day celebration where we had people dressing like kangaroos and wearing bathing suits in January, to the day we at last dropped off our theses upstairs in Alfa. Those are moments that I will not forget.

But Stories are what we can and should develop to explain how and why we arrived at where we are now. They are what help us understand ourselves and what gives us an anchor when life is messy and unstructured, as it is certainly bound to be at times. If you don’t have the job you want or if you lose the job you loved, if your long relationship ends or you can’t seem to find a relationship that suits you, if you have children that are driving you crazy or parents that seem to make life difficult, there is more to it than the troubling and hopeless moments. There is the story that the situation is creating in you.

One of my favorite authors, Donald Miller, wrote a book about this concept, one that I read shortly after I’d decided it was time for graduate school and that I would go to Sweden to pursue the degree. He was pondering why most people, across the world, are so drawn to stories. Why are we so pulled in to and shaped by those that we read, see on the screen, and hear from others? Everyone, from the young and old to the rich and the poor?

He said this:

"Possibly, the point of life is the same as the point of a story, therefore, the point of life is character transformation. In nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He's a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end, or some other transformation. If the character doesn't change, the story hasn't happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just a condensed version of life, then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another. Possibly we were meant to live through something rather than to attain something, and the thing we were meant to live through was designed to change us. The point of a story is the character arc, the change."

Going through this year, in the process of obtaining our diplomas, how did you change? What’s different about you from a year ago, besides the fact that you have a masters degree?

Shooting for the moon is wonderful. Changing the world is admirable. I hope that some of us seek to do so, whatever that means. And I hope that we understand that you don’t have to get a job at a big consulting firm or move to Africa to do those things. You can live just as important a life by doing as my neighbor in California does, by patiently and lovingly supporting her husband and in-laws as they handle their sick mother, and by inviting people who can’t visit their family to her Thanksgiving dinners every year, or as my last manager of the job I left to come here does, by speaking positively and encouragingly to everyone that she meets, very visibly lifting people’s moods around her, regardless of how busy and stressed she is, working full time and also owning her own company. These are good stories.

While I get the privilege of getting to speak today, what I want to say to you, and what I would like to say as well to all those highschoolers riding around town in those trucks with their white hats and their whistles, is that we must see past high expectations and comparisons with others. We must see past these and through to what kind of person we are, to see the way we are growing from what we are doing and going through now, and to see what kind of person we aim to be. Let’s not live by accident, or by reaction. Let’s live intentionally, proactively, turning our moments into more than just a collection of photos and into a narrative that has a purpose. Treat people right. Make thoughtful choices. Get to know yourself. Turn your ‘what ifs’ into ‘why nots’. Things won’t always go our way, and things will get messy. But what kind of a story is a perfectly ordered, tidy, and neat one? I don't thing it’s one where you grow very much.

Before I end this, I want to include some more words from that favorite author of mine, because some of them are so very pertinent to all of us, and they have meant so much to me personally in the last couple years...

"And so my hope is that your story will have involved some leaving and some coming home, some summer and some winter. My hope is your story will be about changing, maybe about getting something beautiful born inside of you, about learning to love a woman or a man, about learning to love a child, or about moving yourself around water, around mountains, around friends, about learning to love others more than we love ourselves. We each get one story, you and I, and one story alone.”

Today upon graduation we share the same page of the story, and just as I’ve loved hearing how different some of your stories have been up to now, I look forward in this year and those ahead to hearing how uniquely they each develop. Congratulations on graduating, eller, grattis til examen!


In the park with our plaques!


The three musketeers.


The thesis team at our grad party.

Comments

  1. I love your speech, but I have to say, what I love even more is your dress. I think your fashion sense has most significantly improved since high school-- i mean--did you even have to wear a gown? Why do we all insist everyone wear those ugly gowns anyway? The peach dress is downright hot. Work it girl. Work it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Beautiful. I know we haven't kept in the best of touch, but I've been following your Swedish adventures here and there. Seems like you fit right in and I mean that in the best way possible! Congratulations on your completion and best wishes with the new season ahead. Hopefully we can connect in the future :)

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular Posts