Getting Started: Words Of Wisdom From This Year’s Commencement Speakers

By Carolyn Bigda
Chicago Tribune.

This year’s college graduates may not need as much of a pep talk during graduation ceremonies as in recent years. The national unemployment rate is down to 5.4 percent, the lowest level since 2008. And employers plan to hire more graduates this year than last.

But regardless of what’s going on in the economy, it always helps to get advice when you’re just starting out. Here are snippets of wisdom from some of this year’s commencement speakers.

“I started in a tiny basement, working by myself. Then we had a tiny office that was also a lab and could fit no more than six people in the room. And then it became a bigger office. We all kept working together. And over the entry to one of the buildings was a sign that read, ‘Success is not a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.’ We code-named our product the Edison because we assumed we would have to fail 10,000 times to get it to work the 10,001st. And we did. We set ourselves on fire.”
-Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, a blood diagnostics company, at Pepperdine University.

“Many of my students will say that their goal is to have a nice car and house and job. That’s fine for a start, though a terrible finish. In the meanwhile, it’s harmless, even beneficial for others. Notice again that when you achieve such goals you are achieving benefit for others, as the blessed Adam Smith said, it is not part of your intention, but by getting a good salary you must be doing something that other people value. The money you make by peaceable exchange does good.”
-Deirdre McCloskey, professor of economics, history, English and communication at University of Illinois at Chicago, at Denison University

“The best solution is rarely the most expensive; it’s almost always the most creative.”
-Kenneth Cole, fashion designer, at Emory University

“To you graduates in particular today, I know how gifted you are, how well prepared you are, how high achieving and sought-after you are. I know how confident you are in your talents and opinions. And I know the world needs much of what you have to offer. The world is indeed yours for the taking.

“Even so, I want to urge you to be a little uneasy. I’m not talking about the unease all new graduates feel about careers or money or romance. I’m not inviting you to feel envious of your classmates’ accomplishments or unworthy of your own. I’m talking about the kind of unease that comes from being a little unsure that you already know all you need to know. The kind of restlessness that compels you to look beyond yourself for answers and meaning. You graduates came to Harvard with big ideas, and you leave with big capacities. But still, as my grandmother would say, what you don’t know could fill a book.”
-Deval Patrick, former governor of Massachusetts, at Harvard University

“What characterizes the career trajectories you, today, are embarking on? For my parents, the typical career trajectory was like a steamship. They set the course, fired up the engines and powered ahead.

“For your parents, sitting here today, and for me, our career trajectories have been navigated more like a sailboat. We set course and, through skillful tacking and maneuvering, we’ve played the winds and currents to get where we thought we wanted to go. Blown off course sometimes, it is still a well-crafted trajectory.

“But for you all, today the environment is radically different. The way I see your world is this: You are living in a white-water world. You must be more like a white-water kayaker who skillfully reads the currents and disruptions of the context around you.”

-John Seely Brown, independent co-chairman, Deloitte’s Center for the Edge, at Arizona State University
Carolyn Bigda writes Getting Started for the Chicago Tribune

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