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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 May 21, 2019

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

For all our social media bravado, we live in a society where communication is seen less as an art, and more as a perfunctory exercise. We spend so much time with people, yet we struggle with how to meaningfully communicate.

If you believe you have mastered effective communication, scan the list below and see whether you can see yourself in any of the examples:

Example 1

You are uncomfortable with a person’s actions or comments, and rather than telling the individual immediately, you sidestep the issue and attempt to move on as though the offending behavior or comment never happened.

You move on with the relationship and develop a pattern of not addressing challenging situations. Before long, the person with whom you are in relationship will say or do something that pushes you over the top and predictably, you explode or withdraw completely from the relationship.

In this example, hard-to-speak truths become never- expressed truths that turn into resentment and anger.

Example 2

You communicate from the head and without emotion. While what you communicate makes perfect sense to you, it comes across as cold because it lacks emotion.

People do not understand what motivates you to say what you say, and without sharing your feelings and emotions, others experience you as rude, cold or aggressive.

You will know this is a problem if people shy away from you, ignore your contributions in meetings or tell you your words hurt. You can also know you struggle in this area if you find yourself constantly apologizing for things you have said.

Example 3

You have an issue with one person, but you communicate your problem to an entirely different person.

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The person in whom you confide lacks the authority to resolve the matter troubling you, and while you have vented and expressed frustration, the underlying challenge is unresolved.

Example 4

You grew up in a family with destructive communication habits and those habits play out in your current relationships.

Because you have never stopped to ask why you communicate the way you do and whether your communication style still works, you may lack understanding of how your words impact others and how to implement positive change.

If you find yourself in any of the situations described above, this article is for you.

Communication can build or decimate worlds and it is important we get it right. Regardless of your professional aspirations or personal goals, you can improve your communication skills if you:

  • Understand your own communication style
  • Tailor your style depending on the needs of the audience
  • Communicate with precision and care
  • Be mindful of your delivery, timing and messenger

1. Understand Your Communication Style

To communicate effectively, you must understand the communication legacy passed down from our parents, grandparents or caregivers. Each of us grew up with spoken and unspoken rules about communication.

In some families, direct communication is practiced and honored. In other families, family members are encouraged to shy away from difficult conversations. Some families appreciate open and frank dialogue and others do not. Other families practice silence about substantive matters, that is, they seldom or rarely broach difficult conversations at all.

Before you can appreciate the nuance required in communication, it helps to know the familial patterns you grew up with.

2. Learn Others Communication Styles

Communicating effectively requires you to take a step back, assess the intended recipient of your communication and think through how the individual prefers to be communicated with. Once you know this, you can tailor your message in a way that increases the likelihood of being heard. This also prevents you from assuming the way you communicate with one group is appropriate or right for all groups or people.

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If you are unsure how to determine the styles of the groups or persons with whom you are interacting, you can always ask them:

“How do you prefer to receive information?”

This approach requires listening, both to what the individuals say as well as what is unspoken. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson noted that the best communicators are also great listeners.

To communicate effectively from relationship to relationship and situation to situation, you must understand the communication needs of others.

3. Exercise Precision and Care

A recent engagement underscored for me the importance of exercising care when communicating.

On a recent trip to Ohio, I decided to meet up with an old friend to go for a walk. As we strolled through the soccer park, my friend gently announced that he had something to talk about, he was upset with me. His introduction to the problem allowed me to mentally shift gears and prepare for the conversation.

Shortly after introducing the shift in conversation, my friend asked me why I didn’t invite him to the launch party for my business. He lives in Ohio and I live in the D.C. area.

I explained that the event snuck up on me, and I only started planning the invite list three weeks before the event. Due to the last-minute nature of the gathering, I opted to invite people in the DMV area versus my friends from outside the area – I didn’t want to be disrespectful by asking them to travel on such short notice.

I also noted that I didn’t want to be disappointed if he and others declined to come to the event. So I played it safe in terms of inviting people who were local.

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In the moment, I felt the conversation went very well. I also checked in with my friend a few days after our walk, affirmed my appreciation for his willingness to communicate his upset and our ability to work through it.

The way this conversation unfolded exemplified effective communication. My friend approached me with grace and vulnerability. He approached me with a level of curiosity that didn’t put me on my heels — I was able to really listen to what he was saying, apologize for how my decision impacted him and vow that going forward, I would always ask rather than making decisions for him and others.

Our relationship is intact, and I now have information that will help me become a better friend to him and others.

4. Be Mindful of Delivery, Timing and Messenger

Communicating effectively also requires thinking through the delivery of the message one intends to communicate as well as the appropriate time for the discussion.

In an Entrepreneur.com column, VIP Contributor Deep Patel, noted that persons interested in communicating well need to master the art of timing. Patel noted,[1]

“Great comedians, like all great communicators, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.”

Communicating effectively also requires thoughtfulness about the messenger. A person prone to dramatic, angry outbursts should never be called upon to deliver constructive feedback, especially to people whom they do not know. The immediate aftermath of a mass shooting is not the ideal time to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment rights.

Like everyone else, I must work to ensure my communication is layered with precision and care.

It requires precision because words must be carefully tailored to the person with whom you are speaking.

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It requires intentionality because before one communicates, one should think about the audience and what the audience needs in order to hear your message the way you intended it to be communicated.

It requires active listening which is about hearing verbal and nonverbal messages.

Even though we may be right in what we say, how we say it could derail the impact of the message and the other parties’ ability to hear the message.

Communicating with care is also about saying things that the people in our life need to hear and doing so with love.

The Bottom Line

When I left the meeting with my dear friend, I wondered if I was replicating or modeling this level of openness and transparency in the rest of my relationships.

I was intrigued and appreciative. He’d clearly thought about what he wanted to say to me, picked the appropriate time to share his feedback and then delivered it with care. He hit the ball out of the park and I’m hopeful we all do the same.

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Featured photo credit: Kenan Buhic via unsplash.com

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