The Graduation Speech You Need to Hear: A Message of Hope and Inspiration

The Graduation Speech You Need to Hear: A Message of Hope and Inspiration by @andrewdkaufman #graduation #hope #inspirationIf I were giving this year’s commencement speech, here’s what I would say:

Dear graduating class of 2023,

You live in a perilous world. You know that as well as anybody. Your generation has lived through COVID, a broken political culture, the terror of gun violence, and the specter of nuclear war once again rearing its ugly head. If you feel unsettled, you’re not alone. One in six adults has depression today.

Your teachers have tried to prepare you for the world you are entering by arming you with an academic education. But knowledge, information, and the ability to think critically aren’t enough. There are countless examples of people who have all of those things and still bring great harm to the world and themselves.

You have another asset at your disposal: intelligence. I don’t mean the kind of intelligence measured by tests and grades, but a deeper intelligence that you were born with and that you, like your elders, slowly stopped heeding along the way: the ability to distinguish between the authentic and the fake, the music and the noise, the life-giving and life-destroying. The ability to love.

The answers you seek aren’t out there, in some imagined future world of professional success or social utopia. They are down here, all around you and inside of you. Trust your heart to steer you in the right direction. But first, heal your heart.

Practice solitude.

Avoid gurus who promise you happiness and instead embrace those who help you find meaning. Better yet, steer clear of gurus altogether. Trust your instincts. Heed the wisdom of the animals. Listen to the music of the trees and the wind and the stars.



The Graduation Speech You Need to Hear: A Message of Hope and Inspiration by @andrewdkaufman #graduation #hope #inspiration
A deeper intelligence 

Run towards—not away from—that which makes you uncomfortable. Seek out those you passionately disagree with. Know that they, too, have learned to erect self-protective walls.

“Our deepest fears,” the poet Rilke said, “are like dragons guarding our deepest treasures.”

Focus on the treasures that lie beneath the words. Find out what really matters to people: not what they hate, but what they love.

Cultivate the ability to look into another person’s eyes and see not a stranger or a foe, but a fellow human being walking this path alongside you.

There’s a wonderful scene in War and Peace that illustrates this. Prince Andrei Bolkonsky has gone on a maniacal, months-long quest to hunt down Anatole Kuragin, who had seduced and attempted to elope with Andrei’s former fiancée, Natasha Rostova. Unsuccessful in his pursuit, Andrei eventually opts to satisfy his wounded ego by killing Frenchmen on the battlefield, before being gravely injured by an exploding grenade.

Lying in the battlefield operating tent, writhing in pain, he observes another man who sobs like a boy as he stares aghast at his own amputated leg, still clad in its blood-caked boot. That man, it turns out, is none other than Anatole Kuragin, whom he has expended so much energy in trying to chase down.

Now, rather than pouncing on this opportunity to finish the blackguard off, however, Andrei does something else entirely: “He now remembered the connection between him and this man, who was looking at him dully through the tears that filled his swollen eyes. Prince Andrei remembered everything and a rapturous pity and love for this man filled his happy heart.” Unable to restrain himself, Prince Andrei  “wept tender, loving tears over people, over himself, over their and his own errors.”

What Andrei sees then is himself: a flawed fellow human being, neither good nor bad, and thus deserving of his sympathy.

“One can’t help loving people,” Tolstoy wrote. “They are all—we are all-so pitiable.” Indeed, the word “to love” and “to pity” were used synonymously in Tolstoy’s 19th-century Russia. Love, then, is where the ego ends, where I see myself in you, and you in me, and we’re both better, bigger human beings for it.

This is what true intelligence looks like. It is the kind of knowledge that allows you to see people, places, and things as they truly are, without preconception, without judgment, in their mysterious beauty, all their interconnectedness. This knowledge can help you breathe more freely, make wise decisions, and live with joy and hope in a hard world.

Til we meet again,


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