Graduation season is upon us and I love it! I live in an area where I am surrounded by college campuses. I love to walk around them during graduation and see the excited students, friends and families. I can’t help but think of all the hard work, tears, joys and experiences that come with commencement. I am pretty sure I will never be asked to give a commencement address, but I love listening to them. I YouTube many of them this time of year. I find them hopeful, optimistic and inspiring (they are also short which helps, I think).
So here is the address I would have given had I been invited:
Faculty, staff, administration, alumni, family, friends and most importantly, graduates, I’m humbled and honored for the opportunity to speak to you today. It seems like every generation likes to roll their eyes at the generation after them with the tired trope “kids these days.” There’s no short supply of stories denigrating your generation. I think for the most part, they are not only unfounded, untrue and unflattering, they are misguided and harmful. The truth is, I think you’re doing a great job! I think your generation sees the world in new and exciting ways. Crowd-sourcing, the shared economy, the power and limitations of social networks and so many others. My address today will not, however, try to draw a distinction between your generation and mine. Instead, I would like to apologize for what my generation has left you and I’d like to ask your help in fixing it.
First, I’m sorry for the current state of politics. We are in an era of tribalism and hyper partisanship that for good reason has eroded confidence in the government. I’m sympathetic to those view who government institutions as incapable of instituting real change. However, I believe our core democratic principles are solid and worth defending. What we need from your generation is an increase in government participation. I know you’re cynical about bureaucracies and politics. I don’t blame you. We need fresh faces and fresh ideas. Young graduates like you are willing to challenge and change the status quo. Walking away for something never fixes it. This country has done amazing things in the past. We are capable of doing it again. It will require our best efforts. It will require your generation to step up and take its place in this our great American story.
Second, I apologize for global climate change. I realize I am not personally responsible for the melting of the polar ice caps, but my generation and the baby boomers before us have left you quite a mess to clean up. I am confident there are great solutions to even this epic threat. We need you to be less selfish, less lazy, and less underwhelmed than we have been. We need you to be vigilant in helping us stop the effects of climate change before it’s too late. The world is counting on you!
Finally, I’m sorry about religion. I am a person of deep faith and deep religious conviction. Speaking in a broad interfaith way, I can see how sometimes religion has let you down. It has felt closed, unwelcoming, restrictive and maybe even self-interested. I am sympathetic to the idea of being spiritual but not religious. Let me offer a different perspective. One of the challenges of being spiritual but not religious is spirituality can often be practiced as mainly self-help–which is good but we need your spirituality to be outward as well. Organized religion offers institutional structures to do tremendous good. It provides human interaction, solid moral frameworks and interdependent communities. Your own deep spirituality is increased by sharing that experience with others of similar faith. There is a synergism that comes from faith communities. There is also the potential to do greater good than individual meditation can produce. If you want church to be more inclusive, more understanding, more empathetic, come and help us make it that way.
Some parting advice (no commencement address would be complete without it). Here is my meme worthy counsel: Make good friends, work hard, be nice, listen more, speak less, be humble, be brave, treat others like you’d like to be treated, be kind, empathetic and thoughtful, say sorry, eat ice cream, take walks, cry, laugh, love and enjoy the journey.
Thank you and congratulations to the class of 2018!