Yet the tradition goes on. We invite people in leadership roles or who have become high achievers or who have become quite successful to tell graduates what’s most important. Some can have a lasting imprint because the media highlights them. In 2015, Katie Couric got press for these commencement words of wisdom, "If you're too big for a small job, you're too small for a big job." Nice.
NPR posted a blog on the most used words spoken to graduates. They raise an interesting point by drawing a comparison to hit pop songs. The most effective speeches are simple, emotional, and pack a universal message into just a few words. Very good.
Now get this. The blogger, Anya Kamenetz, used a database of commencement speeches from between 1771 and 2013 to determine the five most frequent words used by speakers, excluding prepositions and other super common words.
The top five were: Life, Make, People, World, Yourself.
Then she did the same with the most quoted people from commencement speeches of 2014-2015. The top five words they used were: Make, Success, Generation, Define, Human. She mentioned two other notables were "text" and "technology."
Anya’s generalized observation was that millennials process the world differently. Speakers were "slightly more likely to address a ‘generation’ than the solitary ‘yourself.'" (FYI, NPR also has a selection of commencement addresses going back to 1774. You can search more than 350 speeches by name, school, date, or theme. https://apps.npr.org/commencement/)
I’ve made a couple of high school commencement speeches in my time. The last was in 2007 at a Christian high school. I was seeking to communicate to these students that technology and social media have changed the game of influence.
What I said then, I believe holds true today. The world that our graduates will proceed into is preoccupied with themselves. To penetrate that mindset in this age, you must find ways to be in the world, but not of it. And use language that transcends the cultural norms.
My observations included…
- As you engage in the new and multiple forms of messaging, does what you’re saying have any lasting value?
- How does your communication affect the self worth of others?
- Technology is an asset. It has a huge liability. It sucks time and attention from your life. Can you step back?
- Your spiritual challenge is the same today as it was in Jesus' time. "His words were…be in the world, but not of it." You have to figure out how.
- Your unique challenge is how to put controls in your life to avoid the traps of a high tech world…and especially the trap of the message that without fame or recognition, you do not exist.
In summary, blogs, videos--anything that gets on the web--must have a different face. A different purpose. A different approach. You will have to find ways to communicate to the world that there is one icon that has more power behind it than all the rest. The icon of the cross.
The redeeming love of God, expressed through the cross, is what will enable anyone to "graduate" to their eternal home. (John 3:16 is the reference point.)
Interestingly, the word “cross” didn’t show up on either list of “money words” from past commencement speeches.
No wonder most of these talks are so easily forgotten.
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