Commencement speech

My Graduation Commencement Address

This week is high school graduation week up here in Anchorage, so I decided to take Steve’s (Think Save Retire) challenge to write a commencement address to college graduates. And now, we will hear from Maggie Banks (round of applause):

Hello Students! Take a minute to look around. There are a lot of you. You’ll notice you’re all sitting together and you’re all wearing the same thing and at the end of this speech, you’ll each get the very same piece of paper. Despite this moment of convergence, each of your paths to this precise moment have been completely different. Some of you barely made it to this moment. You took out loans. You worked. You studied. You pulled those grades up. You retook that class. And you did it. You’re here! For others, the path was easier. The cost of college wasn’t a huge burden and you’re graduating without debt. Finances aside, maybe you breezed through classes and this day came only at the end of a series of accomplishments.

After this one moment where you look the same, your lives will again follow very different paths. Let me give you some advice that will apply to all of you:

  • First, Focus on the Good Grade. I know, you’ve spent your whole life (and maybe quite a bit of the last semester!) focusing on the bad grades. You had to bring those grades up to graduate. When you were younger and you brought home a report card with an A in Math and a C in English, which oneΒ did your parents mention first? But now that you’re wearing the square hat, the grades no longer matter. The fact that you got that A in Math is the most important thing. Focus on that. It’s what you’re good at. Knowing what your true skills are will be important. Sure, you’re probably proficient at a lot of things now. But what comes the most naturally?
  • Second, Think Outside the System. You have all just navigated the complicated structure of university education. I hope by now you’ve realized that while you leave this university with a piece of paper stating your chosen degree, education does not only exist within this system. Education is everywhere and your schooling doesn’t stop once you leave school. Read. Study. Write. Calculate. Learn new skills. Each thing you learn opens up your world. Don’t stop learning.
  • Third, Employment is a System. Just as education doesn’t only exist inside the university, employment is more fluid now than it has ever been. Employers are realizing the advantages of focusing on your natural skills. You can also work for yourself. Both is an option as well. Know this: You only have to work as long as you decide. 65 isn’t the “normal” age anymore. This lead us to number 4:
  • Get Control Over Your Finances ASAP! – You are starting from very little. Any income will most likely be an increase! Use that to your advantage. Live off just slightly more than you are right now and put the rest toward savings and paying down your debts. As soon as you figure out how much you REALLY need to live on, you can start to calculate how many years it will take to be able to take money out of the picture entirely. You are capable of retiring in ten years. Even if you don’t want to do that right now, your future self will be happy you chose to save so much. Save now.
  • Fifth, Money Isn’t Everything: You are not on this earth to make money. You are here to experience joy. Focus on the joy. Some things aren’t worth the money. Don’t trade relationships for money. Don’t trade your own health and happiness for money. It’s not worth it. Money is a tool to help you experience more joy, but more money does not equal more joy. Find the balance.
  • Number 6: Don’t be a Jerk: You know a jerk. You probably know lots of jerks. They’re not pleasant. They don’t make the world a better place. You don’t want to help them. Sometimes they succeed because they’re jerks. That’s not that way you want to succeed. Don’t be a jerk.
  • Seventh, Wear Sunscreen. Maybe this reference is lost on you, but in my day, that was the ultimate advice to give at graduation. It was even put to music. Basically, my message here is: things don’t change because you’re an adult now. You know what is good and what is dumb. Choose the good. Wear your sunscreen. Wear your seat belt. Save your money. Don’t do drugs. Clean your room. Think of all the phrases your parents told you as kids. Do those.
  • Lastly, Live gloriously. You get the choice, right now, to decide what you want to do. Don’t choose something because your parents want you to do that. Don’t choose something because the employment test told you it was a “good fit” or because your counselor told you it was a good choice. Think about what you REALLY want to do. If you only had one month to live, what would you do? What if you get five years? How would you allocate your time? Live that life now. There’s no second chance on your life and it’s too short to not jump in and live it gloriously! Good luck!


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  1. The Green Swan

    Very well said! I like the β€œfocus on the good grade”. There is something to be said about building up your strengths, and not just trying to improve weaknesses! Thanks for the great speech!

    • MaggieBanks

      Absolutely! Now, go and live your life gloriously little graduates! πŸ™‚

  2. Oh, man. Baz Luhrmann. 8th grade graduation right here! πŸ™‚ Graduation and growing older do come with a side of crow sometimes, doesn’t it? All those cliches and nuggets that I ignored growing up had a great way of coming fluttering back into view.

    • MaggieBanks

      Absolutely. “Don’t be Stupid” would also sum that up nicely… but not as poetically!

      • LOL. Great advice. Does hearing it ahead of time mean we only have to make these mistakes ourselves once before they finally sink in? Is it possible to avoid them altogether?

        • MaggieBanks

          We all have to be stupid sometimes. If we can shorten the amount of times we are, that’s the ultimate goal. πŸ™‚

  3. Thanks for taking the challenge, Maggie, and very well said! I think I like #1 the best – don’t focus on our weaknesses. Focus on your strengths. Knowing what we are all good at is the very first step in determining one possible path to success. It may not be the ONLY path, but it’s probably the easiest one. And who doesn’t like easy? πŸ™‚

    • MaggieBanks

      Thanks for the challenge, Steve! I think school beats into us too much that we have to make all of our weaknesses into strengths – but we all have natural talents and capabilities. If we focus on those, we will have a lot easier time succeeding!

  4. Nicely said Maggie. I love this challenge! Focus on what you are good at, never stop learning and don’t be a jerk! Good advice for just about anyone. πŸ™‚

    • MaggieBanks

      I know I need to hear these things periodically as well. πŸ™‚

  5. Very powerful, Maggie! I think recognizing the system of employment for what it is helps a lot. It’s a “cold” system, not a community looking out for your best interests. You have to do that for yourself. And there is so much more to life than money, but having your finances in order really helps you take hold of that “more”.

    • MaggieBanks

      Once you start thinking differently and outside of the system, the possibilities open largely!

  6. Think outside of the system… My favourite part! What system…?
    And in doing so, don’t be a jerk… I will be happy to pass that message on as a first base!

  7. My favorite snippet: Don’t be a jerk. πŸ™‚ Pretty much the best life advice for everyone, yet so few live by it. If everyone followed your advice, companies would be more ethical, the economy would be more fair, and we’d all be so much happier!

    • MaggieBanks

      I think a lot of problems could be solved by not being a jerk. Followed closely by: “Don’t be stupid.” And that’s the whole talk there folks!

  8. thejollyledger

    I was going say, “don’t focus on everyone else’s weakness ” too, but I think you summed it up well with “don’t be a jerk!”

    • MaggieBanks

      Isn’t everything wise summed up in “Don’t be a jerk”? πŸ™‚

  9. “Don’t be a jerk” may be the greatest advice anyone has ever given. The world would be much a more enjoyable place if people treated each other with just a little bit of respect! Great address Maggie!

    • MaggieBanks

      Thanks Thias. And I agree. “Don’t be a Jerk” pretty much covers everything else!

  10. Wish you could have been the speaker at my graduation! Loved the don’t be a jerk – with everything going on in our lives and other peoples lives it is good to be reminded to be nice! I think a lot of the other things in life fall into place with more ease (financial, work, etc) when you are nice.

    • MaggieBanks

      OH totally agree. Sometimes being nice means being overlooked or the brunt of everything, but more often than not, wonderful things happen if you’re nice.

  11. Well, I’m inspired! I love the idea behind #1 — you don’t have to be great at everything, just at knowing your own strengths and weaknesses and working with them.

    • MaggieBanks

      I think we need to focus on strengths more than assuming everyone SHOULD be good at everything! πŸ™‚

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