Having Fun at Commencement

Having Fun at Commencement

Yeah  – that’s right  – having fun at commencement.  Last Saturday, ODU held it’s 125th commencement and for me it was a day of commencing.  We have two ceremonies for our fall/winter commencement because of the size of our convocation center.  For some folks in higher education, commencement has become just another chore, but personally, I really it.  Think about it – have you ever been to a sad commencement?  After all, commencement represents not so much an end but a beginning of a new stage of life for the student, family and friends.

As an aside, one of the things that has changed with commencement is the decorating of the mortarboard.  As one of my colleagues pointed out, when we graduated, the decorating of the mortarboard was done by the “rebels” and today it seems that it is the norm rather than the exception.  The messages range from heartfelt gratitude to cheeky goodbyes to the world of studying and books – and the misguided belief that they are “done” with their education.  In any situation – they express joy, excitement and hope for tomorrow.

One of the most difficult tasks of the entire ceremony, is the job of the commencement speaker. Having attended dozens of commencements, I’ve heard good and not so good speakers and I am happy to say that we had two very good speakers at our commencements on Saturday.  I actually took notes so I could capture some the insightful jewels each provided the graduates and all those in attendance.  Below are some of the insights as grouped by me.

Always be aspirational—make stretch goals

Both speakers challenged graduates to continue to grow as individuals.  Encouraging them to never stop learning and to always strive to make a difference.

You can attract more bees with honey than with vinegar     

The morning speaker suggested that we should always take a moment to say thank you to those who provide us assistance.  For me, I’ve been very lucky.  Much of my success is due to the help of others.  The afternoon speaker asked that we “always be nice to others and make time for everyone.”   In my mind, this can be as simple as stopping to say hello and asking someone how are they doing and here is the important, ask and actually you mean it.  Take that extra step and you actually really listen to the answer.

To be successful you must be receptive and adaptable

One speaker reminded the graduates that they need to recognize that they don’t know everything and that we need to learn from others. We can best learn from others by becoming a good listener.  The afternoon speaker put it in a slightly different way in which she challenged the graduates to keep an open mind.

Be accountable for your actions

One of the speakers used the phase “Own your failures.”  Hold yourself accountable and avoid making excuses when things don’t turn out as well as you may have hoped.  We were also reminded “No job is too small, no matter how big we think we’ve become.”  This rings particularly true for an old continuing education guy like me.  We never overgrow the need to move chairs and tables, schlep flip charts, and basically do whatever needs to be done.

Wag more—bark less 

This bit of advice comes not from the commencement speakers but from me.  It goes back to what I learned in kindergarten – if you don’t have something nice to say then……you know the rest.  I also believe that wagging more means having fun whether you are at work or at play.  And speaking of having fun at commencement, there is no substitute to being surrounded by good and fun colleagues during the commencement ceremony. For example, at commencement we sometimes play the over/under game in terms of when the commencement will end.  This year we had no winner (for the record I won at the last commencement).

Finally, I’ll end this post with the last piece of advice from the afternoon speaker: Give more than you receive.   This is certainly poignant advice during this holiday season but it has meaning all year round.  While it is very difficult at times, making that extra effort, going that extra mile, often times makes the difference between success and failure.

Peggy and I wish everyone a safe and happy holiday.

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