May Writing Contest: Write Your Own Commencement Speech — Congrats, Louise B.

If you could go to your alma mater, what would you tell this year’s class? Scripted writers weigh in — take a look at what they’d say and vote for your favorite. 

Graduation is a time when future possibilities are endless. Sure, there’s a lot of uncertainty but that’s the exciting part. Think back to one of your graduation days, did your future turn out how you imagined it would? What lessons have you learned since that you wish you knew back then? For this month’s writing contest, given that it’s the month of graduations, we asked writers to pen their own commencement speeches.

We’d like to congratulate Louise B. for winning this months writing contest, you can read her commencement speech below.

  1. Dreams Aren’t Easy – Curtis F.
  2. Your Relationship With Yourself – Joseph S.
  3. Oh, Um, Congratulations – Paul L.
  4. UnSchool – Star D.
  5. The Bubble – Jeff M.
  6. You’ll Need Luck – Louise B.
  7. Patting Myself on the Back – April K.
  8. Money and People – Aurelio L.
  9. Life Lessons: Because Therapy is Expensive – Jennifer
  10. A San Diego State University – Ian E.
  11. Based on Stuff – Christiana D.

Dreams Aren’t Easy

Curtis F.

Greetings and salutations to the Richmond Academy class of 2014. I stand before you today as a graduate myself. When I look out among you, I see the same hopes and dreams that I had myself when I sat where you sit today. I see the eyes of those whose plans include starting college next semester. I see those who want nothing more than to take a semester off and travel the world. I even see those who are just happy to get out of here so they can start their life outside of the confines of an educational institution.

I’m here today, though, to let you know that your dreams won’t always be that easy. Not much in life goes exactly as it’s intended, and when it does, it’s not usually how we’d hoped for. Some of us will run into the realization that we don’t have the money to attend the college we want. Others will find that living away from home is just as hard as their parents told them.

Regardless of how difficult real life will prove itself to be, though, it’s important that you neither give up nor allow yourself to be looked down upon because of the path you’re taking. Anyone who tells you that life went exactly as they planned is lying, so even if you’re still trying to figure out what you want to do in ten years, don’t feel like a failure. You’ve still got plenty of time.

Feel free to listen to the outside world, but don’t let that be what defines you or what pushes you into doing something with your life that you won’t enjoy in 20 years. Just focus on surviving and striving to be just a little better off than you were when you woke up in the morning. People will have your best interests in mind, but they aren’t the ones who will live the life you create.

Live your own life. Be happy. And don’t ever take life too seriously because none of us will get out of it alive.

Your Relationship With Yourself

Joseph S.

With your studies behind you and your whole life in front of you, with everyone patting you on the back and offering their assurances of a prosperous future, it is easy to get wrapped up in visions of wealth, world fame and exalted tiers of personal achievement.

You are more likely to step off a cliff when you’re staring out at the horizon instead of at the terrain right in front of you. Setting goals and making concrete plans are excellent habits to develop, but you don’t have to go charging out of the gate expecting to become Bill Gates, Michael Phelps or Mark Zuckerberg. Start by focusing on simply becoming an honest and reliable person with integrity. It may not turn you into a technological mega-mogul, a gold medalist or a billionaire, but cultivating those qualities will attract you to other people of merit and character.

Honesty starts with your relationship with yourself. If you are lying to yourself then you are lying to everyone else. Conversely, if you can learn to be honest with yourself then your communication with the people around you can also have clarity and function. You soon may find yourself in a relationship or a job that is making you miserable. Rather than perpetuate the notion of hopelessness, a little personal honesty can save you and those around you a lot of unnecessary grief. If things stink, get out.

Reliability is a link that binds you to those around you. When someone you care about knows they can count on you, they have ever-present reassurance, which gives them respite enough so they can hold themselves together and persevere when times are tough. Setting the example of reliability raises the bar for personal accountability in your circle of influence. As the saying goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

Integrity is verbal and moral accountability mixed with courage into a notion that acts covertly and seeks no praise. Integrity is the difference between the extra effort it takes to do the right thing versus the selfishness it takes to do nothin, and choosing the former every time.

The world doesn’t need more millionaire athletes. It just needs more good people. Be honest about your capabilities and go forth accordingly.

Oh, Um, Congratulations

Paul L.

Members of the student body, the life that is ahead of you belongs to you.

No, that won’t do. You’re smarter than that.

How about this: Live the rest of your days from here on as if you had a thousand years left on the planet.

That’s a little better because it’s more comforting to think things like that instead of carpe diem and what not. By the way, did you know that the saying “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” dates back to the time of the Black Plague? Who wants to take advice from people who didn’t know enough to wash their hands before dinner?

Let’s try one more. This is the big one, the one from the Ghost of Christmas Future: You will look back on this time in your life as the most wonderful time you can remember. Trust me when I say that these days for you are like a nice blank page to a writer, buzzing with all the possibility, all the passions, all the panic of being alive and having a world open and ready for you; all the ears that will listen to you because you are the voice of your generation; all the times when you’ll look around you and say “I have to remember this moment because I’ll never have another one like it.” It’s a wonderful time and I can remember feeling like that once. I’d give anything for you to be able to bottle up some of it and mail it to me so that maybe I could take a sip and run a few hundred miles an hour. If any of you find a way to do so, please oblige.

So, the thousand-year life ahead belongs to you. Be good. Be healthy. Be smart. Louis Pasteur said “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Take that to mean this: The more you know, the more deeply you read, the more you love where you are and what you are, the more life will empty her jackpots for you.

And, oh yes, congratulations.


Star D.

I entered into UnCollege with my eyes wide open. I already knew that learning isn’t something that stops with graduation. In fact, graduation happens every day. And the next day, the learning process happens all over again. I started this process years ago with UnSchooling, at the age of 15 and I plan to continue my education every day until I’m laid to rest.

Today, independent learning is so much easier. There are free classes available from some of the most prestigious schools. When I started on my journey of self-discovery, these options weren’t available. I never waste an opportunity to learn more. I’ve taken hundreds of classes through MIT, Yale, Harvard and Berkeley. I’ve pursued continuing education courses through various organizations; some were free, and some I’ve scraped together money to pay for. Education is valuable to me.

I am so thankful for the learning opportunities that I have. It’s never been easier to access an education without having to spend a dime. I will spend the rest of my life supporting the concept of UnCollege, because it’s attainable and affordable to individuals who appreciate the value of learning. Education is important, but many graduates are leaving school carrying heavy debt burdens that they may never be able to pay off.

The UnCollege concept doesn’t subject learners to this type of risk. As someone who still carries financial burdens from attending a traditional school and who spent two years unemployed because jobs just weren’t available, I can identify with that. Getting an education shouldn’t involve so much risk. Learning shouldn’t be like betting on the stock market or gambling in a casino.

It’s been stated by many in the media that the bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma and the master’s degree is the new bachelor’s. Essentially, this means that the job market is so over-saturated with degrees that they are rapidly losing their value. People must exit the job market for much longer in order to secure an education or work while they learn. Some people cannot afford this investment. If they want to learn, UnCollege and portfolio assessment is the only option they have. It was my only option and I’m grateful.

So today, I graduate. And tomorrow, I’ll be back in the classroom of life, continuing with the education that will take me a lifetime to complete.

The Bubble

Jeff M.

As you leave middle school and prepare to enter high school — with all of its hopes and dreams, pitfalls and disappointments — I ask you to consider things beyond what is going on in the bubble that seems so all-encompassing now. If you do your life right, it won’t always be that way. The ones who get it wrong will still listen to the same music that was popular when they were in high school decades later. They will search backward for their happiness “back in the day” instead of grabbing something out of their present. These coming four years will do much to shape your life — just don’t let them be the frame that locks you in.

Revel in the Ridiculous and Mundane

These speeches often talk about greatness — much of life is far from great, but it can always be amazing. Hold close to your sense of wonder. Fight the tendency to be like everyone else — or anyone else, for that matter. Some of the most interesting people you will know appear the most ridiculous to you now. Remember the lyric that says, “if you’re bored, then you’re boring.” Find a touch of excitement in the everyday and what might have been drudgery becomes just another thing to do.

Make a Road Trip Out of Your Life

Try not to make it too much like the Griswolds’ in National Lampoon’s Vacation, but treat your life like a road trip without a defined map. Sometimes, take a left turn for no other reason than to see where the road goes. Stop to take in the scenery. Drive all night to get somewhere, just to relax when you get there.

Flee From Myth and Superstition

Embrace knowledge and don’t fall into the trap of limiting beliefs. When you discover that you don’t need a god or a book or a faith to live a good life, you become truly free. The most fulfilling life comes from knowing our mortality and understanding that we get one shot. Not to “get it right” but to do the best we can.

You’ll Need Luck

Louise B.

So here you are, graduating from middle school and ready to enter the next phase of your life called high school. For some, it will be a dream, while for others, it will be a nightmare.

There are many possibilities for high school. Will you blossom in high school and become one of the cool kids? Probably not. What about an athlete or an adorkable nerd? Sure, if this is who you were in middle school.

In high school hell, you will be the same person you were in middle school. High school doesn’t transform you. If you have looked forward to high school because you hated middle school, you will probably hate high school as well. After all, it’s the same nonsense, the same mentality and often the same people. The only real thing to look forward to is surviving high school so you can leave all the teenage angst behind and finally start your life as an adult.

You should look forward to college, not high school. High school is just a place you have to endure until you can enter the real world. If you make it through high school relatively unscathed, consider yourself a success.

And by success, I mean making it through high school without succumbing to common teenage problems. I am not talking about no one asking you to the prom, your face breaking out or failing your driving test. You are a success if you manage to make it through high school without trying to kill yourself or committing suicide, without getting drunk with friends and driving a car into a tree, without getting addicted to drugs, without becoming pregnant or getting someone pregnant and without getting a criminal record. If you can avoid all this while being bullied, teased and possibly shot by your classmates, then you are a survivor.

The horrors of high school prepare you for life by making you stronger. If you can survive high school hell, you have the strength to survive anything.

Four years out of your life doesn’t seem like a long time, but when you are in high school, it seems like forever. But you’ll get through it.

Good luck, graduating class of 2014. You’ll need it.

Patting Myself on the Back

April K.

I am so honored and excited to stand here before you today as a distinguished graduate. Ten years ago, I didn’t think I had a chance in hell of making it this far, but my friends set a wager against me, so I thought, “what the hell, might as well prove them wrong.”

But all jokes aside, this day is very special to me and to so many of you out there who made it despite being told you wouldn’t. Six years ago, my teacher said that I couldn’t read beyond a fifth-grade level and that there was no hope of me ever becoming a medical writer; but here I stand before you as a polyglot and a medical degree recipient, so my presence on this honorable platform is bittersweet to say the least.

Bitter for her and sweet for me.

I never let what anyone said get in the way of my drive to push forward and I never will. This paper that I hold in my right hand today is something that so many people strive for, but only a few are privileged enough ever to receive it. When you receive this distinguished gift, don’t let it collect dust, don’t toss it in a box under your old textbooks. Hang it high and feel honored every time you look at it. Remember all of the hard work it took to get this far and all of the odds and obstacles you overcame to receive it.

This is quite possibly one of the most important stages you’ll ever cross in your life and this is one of the most important papers you’ll ever receive, so take a second to accept the magnitude of today and the real meaning behind it. Today isn’t just about receiving a degree and saying goodbye to microwave dinners and tuition fees; today is about crossing the threshold into bigger and better things. This paper is a catapult, and it’s one that opens doors to more possibilities than you could ever dream of. So after patting myself on the back for a job well done, I’d like to congratulate each and every one of you on making it this far. I hope that you’ll join me in creating a better future for the next generation by setting a good example and making the most of this honorable degree. Thank you.

Money and People

Aurelio L.

Only two things are important in life: money and people. All that other stuff that supposedly matters – God, government, art, science – they’re just all different ways of getting the two biggies.

Let’s start with money. The more you have, the more you can buy. But money isn’t about acquiring all kinds of shiny things; it’s about getting more control in your life. If you don’t have money, you can only live in a shack. If you have a lot of dough, you can still live in a shack, or you can lease a ranch house or buy a mansion.

The easy way to get money is to start early with small amounts and do it constantly. Save a dollar a day when you’re 18 and you’ll have over $120,000 when you’re 65, assuming 3 percent a year interest. Wait until you’re 35 to do that, and you only end up with $58,000.

You must also put all the odds in your favor. Sure, you might write the next great app, be a pop star or get recruited by the NBA. But what are chances of that happening? You’ll get hit by lightning first. But pick the right course in technical school or college, learn hard, and you’re going to make money when you graduate. Sorry, Art History, Fashion Design and Journalism aren’t the right courses.

As for people: having someone you can turn to when you need help makes up for not having a lot of money. The thing us, getting good with people is a lot harder than getting good with money. There’s no school that lets you start earning friends after you graduate.

The best way to learn about people is to find somebody who’s good with them. Maybe it’s mom or dad who makes all the kids feel good, a teacher who excites students about a subject or a boss who make everyone feel like a useful member of the team. Then hang around them. A lot. Watch what they do and say, then copy them. Eventually, their people skills will rub off on you.

Life Lessons: Because Therapy is Expensive

Jennifer M.

Congratulations on completing your journey here. As you embark on your new life, remember that therapy is expensive. I’m going to let you in on a few crucial life lessons I’ve learned along the way, mostly due to the lessons learned from my big brother.

1. Always face your fears head on.

This lesson was learned during one of the many horror­ movie marathons, usually involving a certain character named Pinhead, my brother’s favorite. I would try to put my blanket over my head during the scary parts. My brother would always stop me and make me watch the movie, scary parts and all.

Lesson: Anytime I’m faced with “real life” and I feel like I want to dive under the covers, I remember my brother telling me that you always imagine something worse than what’s really happening on screen. So open your eyes and keep going.

2. It’s best to prepare yourself for the worst. 

One of his favorite things to do would be to hide behind the shower curtain, just waiting for me to visit the little girl’s room. Then, he would jump out and scare me.

Lesson: Always check behind the shower curtain! No, really, the lesson is that unexpected things are always waiting around the corner to pop up at you. Keep an eye out for them so you can face them when they occur.

3. Be strong in your convictions. 

My brother once tried to talk me into eating moldy bologna just to see if I would do it. He was very convincing that it was just a new kind of meat, kinda like bleu cheese. I almost fell for it, but in the end, I listened to my gut (and saved my gut at the same time).

Lesson: Know what you stand for, and don’t let anyone talk you into something you don’t want to do. ­

4. Family is everything. That’s the lesson. 

Fight all you want, as long as you come together when it counts. Always tell your Mom you love her and give her a kiss before you leave the house.

San Diego State University

Ian E.

Congratulations, San Diego State University Class of 2014.

The fact that you’re sitting here today is, without question, an impressive accomplishment. Not only have you managed to complete a degree at California’s most prestigious state school, but you did so despite the often overwhelming barrage of distractions that SDSU and San Diego have thrown at you. Whether you joined a fraternity or sorority, gained intimate knowledge of the bar scene in Pacific Beach or Ocean Beach, or just took advantage of the beautiful, if occasionally overcast, weather, pat yourself on the back for successfully navigating the best city in the world without getting sidetracked too badly.

Unfortunately, unless you’re one of the few who stuck it out in an engineering program, I’m sorry to tell you the skills you’ve learned in your respective degree programs will have very little relation to the skill sets you’ll need in your first post-college jobs. In case you haven’t heard, the job market is still pretty terrible, and a lot of college graduates are taking jobs outside their degrees.

Fortunately, I’m willing to bet you still learned a lot of lessons that will benefit you in life after college. You may not realize it yet, but much of what makes college so useful is not learned in the classroom. For example, the ability to retain your composure while drinking is crucially important in the professional world. It’s also something most Aztecs were terrible at as incoming freshmen. But after four years at SDSU, I’m willing to bet most of you can hold your own with your future coworkers.

Also, the fact that you’ve managed to wade through the administrative nightmare that is SDSU bodes well for your ability to survive in corporate America or wherever else you end up. Believe it or not, most companies are better managed than massive institutions like this one.

Most importantly, the vast majority of business owners in San Diego are SDSU alumni, which means you have all the reason you need to stay in SD long term.

Based on Stuff

Christiana D.

If this year taught us nothing else, it taught us that we need to let it go.

Also, everything is awesome.

Should animated films provide life guidance? No, not usually, but bear with me since they are really handy for constructing a commencement address. If this were two years ago, you’d be stuck with relatively nondescript urgings to be brave and not to wreck it, Ralph. But, it is 2014, and we enjoy a brave new world of transcendent animated movies just right for this sort of thing. Or something like that.

So, first, Class of 2014, you need to let it go. What do you need to let go? A couple of things. First, that boy/girl/professor/internship that broke your heart. Leave it behind. In a few days, you’ll be somewhere else thinking about new things and no one around is going to know or care about that one night on the Booze Cruise when you were jilted by your sophomore year crush. Next, and far more importantly, let go of the definition of success you’ve probably been sold for most of your formative years. This economy isn’t your parent’s economy. It’s not even your older siblings’ economy. It may not be your younger siblings’ economy either, for that matter. If you set your sights on working hard to buy the house or the car or the stuff . . . it may not go so well for you.

Look, we’re all about stuff. The economy is based on you wanting stuff. But take it from those who have aimed for stuff and worked for stuff. It’s not that great. It requires you to get a big house, which requires you to clean a big house, which requires you to spend less time doing anything besides cleaning a big house.

The point is, you need to let go of whatever you think is success and figure it out for yourself. For example, I can tell you that success is not law school. But that’s a topic for a difference speech. Don’t do stuff because you’re supposed to. Do stuff (notice I said “do” stuff, not “get” stuff) because you want to — though, please, let that quest at least be a bit informed by service to others. Life spent in your own navel is boring. And linty.

If you manage to let go of your expectations, of the supposed-tos and I-shoulds, and people-told-mes, then you’ll find out that everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you’re part of a team. Like I said, the linty navel life is boring as hell. Find a team and be part of it. Life is kind of amazing when you figure out that you have your own team and you have agency over your direction, you goals, your dreams. And life is exceptional when you find other people to set that direction, dream that dream, with you.

You should start this now, by the way. So enough of these platitudes. Let all of this go to. Make your way, but remember that you won’t be making it alone. Be as awesome as everything. Now designate a driver and go celebrate.