Graduation Speeches – From a Marketing Perspective

For the first time on my marketing blog I thought I was going to stray a little off topic because graduation ceremonies are on my mind, but then I realized with some effort I could tie it back to marketing.

This past week we attended three Commencements for 4 of our kids (having twins is a blessing) and I listened to at least 6 different presenters give advice to grads. This included the Valedictorians, principals, Chancellors, Presidents, Deans and Graduands (fancy word for one about to graduate : a candidate for a degree).

Usually you only get to go to one graduation in a year so you cannot compare the messages, but I spent more than 8 hours of this past week attending of which I am sure 2 hours of that was advice for the graduates. What I noticed was how unclear the messages were as they were couched in “academic speak”. Most of the time it sounded like an advertisement for Masters and Doctorate degrees. I strained to pick out the salient points and reflect on whether my life reflected the advice provided and really struggled with the messages.

On the way home from the third graduation I mentioned to my wife that I thought the speeches should be more direct with advice the graduates could actually use and follow and I was taken back to the 1997 Commencement written by Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune entitled “Everybody’s Free (to wear sunscreen)”. I think this piece written in 1997 is not only brilliant, but is timeless and should be read by marketers every morning.

I have to share this with you:

Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’97… wear sunscreen.
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be IT.

The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.

I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded. But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked.

You are NOT as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive, forget the insults; if you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium.

Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself, either. Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s. Enjoy your body, use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance. Even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do NOT read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents, you never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings; they are your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but for the precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography in lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard; live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths, prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old, and when you do you’ll fantasize that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse; but you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair, or by the time you’re 40, it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

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