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10 Unforgettable Lessons From 2014 Graduation Speeches

10 Unforgettable Lessons From 2014 Graduation Speeches

Wisdom is timeless. We never get too old to hear it, learn it, or benefit from it.

While not all of us are graduating from college this year, it’s safe to say we are all graduating from something in our lives. Whether it’s old habits, homes, jobs, or even parenting, we’re all graduates to some degree. (No pun intended.) So why let new college grads hog all the wisdom? The following quotes highlight poignant life lessons we can all learn from the 2014 graduation speeches.

1. Bill Nye: Knowledge can be acquired anywhere.

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t. Respect their knowledge and learn from them.”

These were the words of Bill Nye, who gave this year’s commencement speech at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Considering the source of this lesson (everyone’s favorite brainy scientist), it’s safe to say it is true. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. The world is filled with infinite diversity, perspectives, and unique experiences. When you meet someone you don’t like, challenge yourself to learn something from them.

2. Charlie Day: The most fulfilling things in life come with risk.

“You cannot succeed without this risk of failure, you cannot have a voice without the risk of criticism, and you cannot love without the risk of loss.”

While you may not have expected the quirky, illiterate janitor from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to share wisdom, Charlie Day delivered this brilliant advice to Merrimack College’s graduating class. Day also spoke about fear and acting in spite of it. The driving point of his speech was to not let fear become a barrier.

3. Bill Gates: Optimism is not irrational.

“Optimism is often dismissed as false hope. But there is also false hopelessness.”

Bill Gates spoke these words at Stanford University’s 2014 Commencement. After a heart-breaking account of his trip to a diseased and poverty-stricken town in Africa, Gates confidently gave this advice and spoke about the importance of innovation. Optimism is not naive, and sometimes hopelessness can be an irrationally negative perspective.

4. Peyton Manning: Being a beginner is not a weakness.

“When you are chided for your naïveté—and you will be—remind your critics that an amateur built the ark and experts built the Titanic.”

Peyton Manning delivered this clever remark at the University of Virginia. Echoing the theme of Bill Gate’s quote, Manning is saying to disregard the naysayers, while maintaining faith in your own innovative ideas. He went on to talk about being a newbie, and how it doesn’t eliminate you from being able to contribute value. Well said.

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5. Jim Carrey: Choices are made from love or fear.

“The decisions we make in this moment are based in either love or fear. So many of us chose our path out of fear disguised as practicality.”

Of course there were plenty of jokes in Jim Carrey’s commencement speech, but this was one of his most notable statements at the Maharishi University of Management in Iowa. “Fear disguised as practicality” is the key phrase. How many of us live our lives this way, avoiding certain dreams because they “just couldn’t happen?”

6. Rainn Wilson: Happiness doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

“Happiness is so fleeting — it’s like cotton candy. It looks amazing, delightful, fluffy and pink. You joyously eat it and almost immediately regret your decision. Your fingers are sticky, you’re undergoing an insulin crash from the half-pound of sugar you just sucked down, and you’re hungry again almost immediately. In this me-me-me culture, focus on yourself and you will find only misery, depression, emptiness. Focus on helping others and you will find joy, contentment, gratitude and buckets and buckets of eudaimonia.”

The delightfully quirky Rainn Wilson gave this advice at the University of Southern California. Comparing fleeting happiness to blood sugar swings is a pretty genius way of saying “don’t fall for the hype.” Personal possessions, money, or other self-focused versions of happiness are about as reliable as cotton candy for a diabetic. And in case you were wondering, eudaimonia is basically Greek for happiness. (I had to look it up.)

7. Melinda Gates: Hardship spawns our greatest efforts.

“If you want to do the most, you have to see the worst.”

These are Melinda Gates painfully truthful words, spoken at Stanford University’s graduation ceremony. After telling a personal story of interacting with poor AIDS victims in hospice, Mrs. Gates extracted the positive, much like her husband did in his speech. There’s nothing more motivating than hardship – especially witnessing the hardship of others.

8. Marc Benioff: The secret to life? Give stuff away.

“The real joy in life comes from giving. It comes from service. It comes from doing things for other people. That is what is so powerful about this. Nothing will make you happier than giving.”

Although these are probably not the words you’d expect from a CEO, Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, said just that at the University of Southern California. Coming from someone with wealth and a successful business, this says a lot. You can feel the certainty in his words – he’s been around the block and wealth isn’t everything.

9. John Legend: You can’t be happy with yourself if you’re not even being yourself.

“Soul is about authenticity. Soul is about finding the things in your life that are real and pure. The things that are at your core. The things you know you were put on this earth to do.”

Ask a soul singer the meaning of soul, and you might regret it hours later, when they’re still talking and philosophizing. Luckily, musician John Legend kept it concise at the 2014 University of Pennsylvania. This speaks to the idea that everyone “belongs” somewhere. Everyone has a passion, gift, knack, or whatever you want to label it. Maybe you already have an inkling as to what your’s is.

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10. Parker Mantell: Doubt is more of a setback than actual setbacks.

“Doubt, as has been observed, kills more dreams than failure ever will. Yet if doubt were a disease, its cure would be confidence.”

You probably haven’t heard of Parker Mantell, as he’s not famous. He is, however, the inspiring student who gave the 2014 graduation speech at Indiana University (which is now going viral). Mantell had the courage to give this epic speech despite his stuttering problem, an obstacle he mentioned during the speech.

We can all circumnavigate our failures and setbacks in one way or another, but doubt is pervasive. It will eat up any motivation we have, limiting our potential until we silence it.

Featured photo credit: thatericalper via thatericalper.com

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Last Updated on March 14, 2019

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

How it helps you:

If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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How it helps you:

Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

How it helps you:

This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

How it helps you:

One word: hierarchy.

All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

How it helps you:

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Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

6. What do you like about working here?

This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

How it helps you:

You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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How it helps you:

What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

Making Your Interview Work for You

Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

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Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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