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Yale, Harvard And Spielberg: 20 Valuable Takeaways From The 2016 Graduation Speeches

Graduation, or Commencement Season has hit the United States and this also means a brand new year of inspiring speeches from both graduates and featured speakers. Regardless of which milestone you are at in life, there is something everyone can take away from the speeches.

Here are the top 20 pieces of advice from four distinguished featured speakers.

Steven Spielberg

One of the first directors at the top of everyone’s minds, there would be no classics like Jurassic Park (1993), Jaws (1975) or E.T. (1982) without him. With a career spanning over 40 years and 126 awards under his belt, it’s hard to believe that he was turned down from admittance to film school because of his C grade average.

After getting his ‘dream job’ at Universal Studios, he dropped out of college (where he was majoring in English), which he lists as a regret. “(At 18) I knew what I exactly wanted to do. But I didn’t know who I was.” He eventually returned to complete his university education and graduated at age 55, in hopes of encouraging his children to get a degree as well.

Speaking to the graduates of Harvard University, he urges them to create a future “filled with justice and peace”.

1- Your conscience shouts, ‘here’s what you should do,’ while your intuition whispers, ‘here’s what you could do.’ Listen to that voice that tells you what you could do. Nothing will define your character more than that.

2- My gut, which was my intuition, told me that more people needed to meet these characters and experience these truths. And while making that film, I realized that a movie could also be a mission. I hope all of you find that sense of mission. Don’t turn away from what’s painful. Examine it. Challenge it.

3- In your defining moments, do not let your morals be swayed by convenience or expediency. Sticking to your character requires a lot of courage. And to be courageous, you’re going to need a lot of support.

4- To me, and, I think, to all of you, the only answer to more hate is more humanity. We gotta repair — we have to replace fear with curiosity. ‘Us’ and ‘them’ — we’ll find the ‘we’ by connecting with each other. And by believing that we’re members of the same tribe. And by feeling empathy for every soul. 

5- Please stay connected. Please never lose eye contact. This may not be a lesson you want to hear from a person who creates media, but we are spending more time looking down at our devices than we are looking in each other’s eyes. So, forgive me, but let’s start right now. Everyone here, please find someone’s eyes to look into. (…) Just let your eyes meet. That’s it. That emotion you’re feeling is our shared humanity mixed in with a little social discomfort.

Sheryl Sandberg

As the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sandberg was the first woman to serve on the company’s board. Ranked as one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business by Fortune Magazine, and one of the world’s 100 most powerful women by Forbes, she is an activist promoting female leadership at the workplace. As quoted from her book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, “A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.” She also delivered a TED speech with advice to women aiming for a place in a male-dominated upper echelons of the corporate ladder.

In her speech to the graduating class of University of California at Berkeley, she stresses the importance of building resilience in light of her own personal tragedy.

1- The easy days ahead of you will be easy. It is the hard days—the times that challenge you to your very core—that will determine who you are. You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive.

2- Studies show that getting past personalisation can actually make you stronger. Teachers who knew they could do better after students failed adjusted their methods and saw future classes go on to excel. College swimmers who underperformed but believed they were capable of swimming faster did. Not taking failures personally allows us to recover—and even to thrive.

3- Finding gratitude and appreciation is key to resilience. People who take the time to list things they are grateful for are happier and healthier. It turns out that counting your blessings can actually increase your blessings.

4- When the challenges come, I hope you remember that anchored deep within you is the ability to learn and grow. You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are—and you just might become the very best version of yourself.

5- We find our humanity—our will to live and our ability to love—in our connections to one another. Be there for your family and friends. And I mean in person. Not just in a message with a heart emoji. Lift each other up, help each other kick the shit out of option B—and celebrate each and every moment of joy.

Dr. William Foege

80 year old Dr. William Foege is a renowned epidemiologist, and is credited for his successful campaign in the eradication of the deadly smallpox epidemic in the 1970s. Using his medical knowledge as a background to champion many issues, such as child survival and development, injury prevention, population, preventive medicine, and public health leadership, his interest is in particular helping those in the developing world. Through his extensive lectures and academic publications over the years, he has also broadened public awareness of these problems.

During his speech entitled “Lessons I am Still Desperately Trying To Learn” at Emory University, he expresses his wish to pass on these lessons to the graduates for them to improve on, albeit having “fallen short in all of these categories”.

1- Every day we edit our obituaries. Sophocles said, “It’s not ‘til evening that you may know how good the day has been.” And it’s not until you get to be my age that you know how good a life has been. But consciously, daily edit your obituary so you realize that sooner. Edit with care and gusto.

2- Avoid a life plan. You cannot imagine what will be invented in the future. You cannot imagine the opportunities that will be presented. You enter a world of infinite possibilities, confusing ideas, continuous changes. But a life plan will limit your future.

3- Be good ancestors. Remember that the children of the future have given you their proxy and they are asking desperately for you to make good decisions, to hope you will take climate change seriously. (…) Because each of us can do so little, it’s important that we do our part. 

4-  The world is expanding in promise, in complexity, in the ability to enjoy it. For all of the problems in the world, I can tell you there has never been a better time to be alive and enjoy that. (…) An example: You have been exposed to as much knowledge in the last year at Emory as Aristotle was in his entire lifetime. Many of you will experience as many cultures in a year as Marco Polo encountered in a lifetime. And think what Shakespeare might have done with a word processor. He didn’t run out of ideas, he had a quill and a bottle of ink. You will pack centuries into 80 calendar years.

5- We like to feel we are civilized. How do you measure that? The usual versions look at science, technology, wealth, education, happiness. Every measure fails, except one. But there is one measure of civilization and it comes down to how people treat each other. Kindness is the basic ingredient (…) Plato said, “Be kind to people, because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Samantha Power

As the United States Ambassador to the United Nations and a member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet, Power has worked alongside him since 2005, when the latter was still a Senator. Since 2009, she has focused on promoting women’s and LGBT rights; religious freedom and the protection of religious minorities and the promotion of human rights and democracy, just to name a few. Her first book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (2002), a study on US foreign policy response on the issue of genocide, won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction and the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize in 2003.

Power was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in 2004, and was listed as the 63rd most powerful woman by Forbes in 2014.

During her address at Yale College, she urges the students to ‘get close’ to issues around them, so as to break away from their echo chambers and make a positive change in the world.

1-  But everyone has voices in their heads that tell them that everyone else is more capable. I even have a name for the place where those voices live – I call it my Bat Cave. Bats – flying around. Call it what you want, everybody’s got one. A healthy dose of self-doubt is a good thing – it is the sister of humility, which is a great thing. The trick is not letting the voices that live in your Bat Cave hold you back from pursuing your path.

2- Getting close means moving beyond approaching an issue through the screen on your laptop or phone, or the filter of someone else’s interpretation, and instead finding a way to get to know the individuals whose lives are impacted.

3- From the Facebook and Twitter feeds we monitor, to the algorithms that determine the results of our Web searches based on our previous browsing history and location, our major sources of information are increasingly engineered to reflect back to us the world as we already see it. They give us the comfort of our opinions without the discomfort of thought. So you have to find a way to break out of your echo chambers.

4-  It is in your interest to engage the people you disagree with, rather than shutting them out or shutting them up. Not only because it gives you a chance to challenge their views, and maybe even change them. But also because sometimes they may just be right.

5- Getting close – and staying close – requires patience and impatience at once. (…) So if you are setting out to make a slice of the world better, you must go in knowing that real change often requires a long struggle. That doesn’t mean being patient in the face of injustice. Because while history may not be in a hurry, you can – and you must – speed it up. Indeed, the struggle to advance basic human rights has almost always been driven by people who refused to accept that any one of us should have to wait until tomorrow for the dignity that every one of us deserves today.

Featured Image Credit: belimitless.com

 

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