The Graduate, circa 2015

Wendy Smolen takes inspiration from a number of notable commencement addresses, looking at how we can help others and what generations young and old can offer each other in the working world.
May 27, 2015

Plastics.  Though we didn’t recognize it as an Instagram moment in 1967, that’s exactly what it was.  Capturing graduates on the brink of whatever comes next is an annual event across the nation, and one of my favorite reality checks. Putting aside the usual rhetoric of follow your dreams, do what you love, save the world, etc., pivotal messages make us, the post-graduates, reassess where we are in our own careers.  They’re a not-so-gentle reminder of how we can help others, how the times they are a-changing, and how newbies and oldies alike need to be open to learn from each other.

Read that last sentence again.

For those of us over a certain age who work with “kids” in their 20′s, it’s humbling to find out how much we don’t know that seems intuitive to younger generations. I sit next to a woman less than half my age. To her probable annoyance, I often interrupt her work to double-check my reasoning. I text my own kids a little too often with what I’m sure they consider stupid questions. But despite the rolled eyes and dramatic sighs, I’m determined to keep learning.

Learn by listening.

I’ve written a lot about storytelling. Many of the recent graduates didn’t just spend four cushy years at college. They struggled to get in. They struggled to pay for it. And they’re coming out with loans that cost more than a Tesla. Read these college essays from the NewYork Times contest and see who the incoming freshmen are.  It’s a different world.

Indie film advocate Robert Redford delivered the commencement address at Colby College. One of his messages: Collaborate! Don’t only connect to the planet, but connect to each other.

Read between the lines.

Michelle Obama advised Tuskegee University grads to show and tell beyond the surface. This also applies to post-grads. Too quickly we all judge, assume and dismiss. A resume never tells the whole story.

Hire an intern.

Not only are most interns young and eager (hence, the afore-mentioned benefits), but they will help you as much as you help them. One of the best parts of being an intern is learning what you like, as well as what you don’t. It’s also often the first “real” job experience for college kids. So they’re on their best behavior and you should be too. It makes you see your own organization  (or lack thereof) through someone else’s lens.  As Katie Couric advised University of Wisconsin graduates, often the best first job out of college is… any job.

And oh yeah, follow your passions.

We got where we are through hard work, dreams, and networking. Graduates need to do the same. We’re here to help pass it on.  Robert DeNiro told it like it is at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Graduation is not the end of formal learning. It’s the end of attending a formal learning institution. So now let’s play and learn together.  Especially with the 22 year olds who need us just as much as we need them.

Heard any great speeches lately (graduation or otherwise)? Tell me at wendy@playsciencelab.com.

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