Graduation time is here again, and with it comes the annual pilgrimage of highly paid speakers to college campuses. The idea is that these celebrity pundits tell the impressionable youth about what is really happening in the world and impart some wisdom about how to navigate it. Some speakers are funny, others tedious. It really doesn't matter that much because most graduating seniors are preoccupied with saying goodbye to friends, coping with family and thinking about the future.
If I were addressing the class of 2005, I would craft a meaningful address designed to gain the graduates' attention because it is such an important time in their lives and there are some lessons they should take with them.
Perhaps the biggest lesson is about how they view the world and its challenges. Attitude makes all the difference in the world. An explanation of what attitude can do is best summed up by theologian Charles Swindoll: "The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past ... we cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes."
Those words have more wisdom in them about what it takes to compete and succeed in life than any others I know.
I would also tell today's graduates that life can be lonely at times. Occasionally, the breaks don't go your way. At such moments, you feel isolated, and that's when a positive attitude comes in handy. Some people have it; many don't. The latter want to blame others for their failures and disappointments. Winners don't look for excuses; they look for opportunities and challenges.
A winning attitude is attractive. People flock to those with positive energy. Conversely, doom and gloomers and cynics are like energy black holes, sucking the life out of things.
I would tell young people to view each day as an adventure, believe that good things will happen and see that they have a role to play in realizing them.
Giving others a helping hand and telling them how much you care for them are part of being a complete person. Going out of your way to make others feel special always comes back to help you.
I would tell those graduates to stay away from phonies -- people who sound sincere and caring but who are anything but. Such people are preoccupied with themselves and are using you to advance their own interests. There seem to be more of them these days. They don't like fair competition and they don't like to be held accountable. They try to subvert those with more talent, going behind their backs to more senior employees with false information. They want success but don't want to put forth the effort to achieve it.
It is sad to see so many insensitive people because they miss the very core of living, which is giving willingly to others. Many people go through their entire lives never really understanding this fundamental truth, encapsulated in the Golden Rule. Giving in this way guarantees that good things will come back to you. Those who go out of their way to help others usually end up being rewarded with feelings of fulfillment and love.
I would tell these young people that they are soon going to be in the job market, if they haven't been already. The competition for good jobs is tougher with each passing year. More of the good-paying jobs require a high level of skill and there are fewer of them. The economy has become more complex as outsourcing sends more jobs overseas. With this kind of competition, attitude becomes even more important. You must have skills, but you also have to go out into the world with enthusiasm, energy and a positive outlook. Not only will those things make you a more attractive job candidate, they will help you through the situations where you don't win a coveted post. And that will happen, even to the most talented of you.
Employers want people who are going to give them 100% effort every day. There are a lot of smart people out there who look great on paper but they don't really have the will to work. Having a positive, enthusiastic attitude about life and work characterizes most successful people I know.
Finally, I would remind today's graduates that we still live in the greatest country in the world, where you can be just about anything you want to be if you put your mind, energy and your will to the task each and every day.