Around this time of the year, it’s become a common sight to see commencement speeches from high school and university graduation ceremonies being shared on leadership sites as inspiration on how we can better serve those we lead.
The popularity of these kinds of speeches in leadership circles is not too surprising when we consider how the very nature of the commencement speech is to draw attention to the lessons learned and how they can be applied going forward to create a future filled with purpose, meaning, and joy.
Indeed, this speaks to the very heart of what it takes to be a successful leader, as leadership is not just about getting results, but finding ways to inspire those you lead to be better [Share on Twitter].
That’s why I’m taking this opportunity to share the commencement speech I gave this past weekend at the high school where I serve as Governing Board Chairman, a speech that was also a very personal one as my daughter Alya was among the hundreds of graduates whose achievements we were there to celebrate.
As someone who writes, speaks and works with leaders to help them better understand what it takes bring out the best in those they lead, it was a genuine privilege to be able to inspire this group of newly minted graduates about what they can achieve going forward.
It was a privilege to deliver this speech because as leaders, we have an obligation to inspire passion and excitement for what the future might hold [Share on Twitter]; for what those we lead can do, for what they can become, and how they can live a life that matters.
Indeed, it was my hope that in sharing this message to this new generation of leaders, inventors, team players, and game-changers that they would appreciate that optimism is not the absence of negativity, but the ability to rise above despite it [Share on Twitter], a message that unfortunately bears repeating in light of the numerous challenges dogging our world today.
Amid all the wonderful comments I received from the students, staff, and parents in attendance at this weekend’s graduation ceremony, there was one comment which I got from one of the many proud mothers in attendance that compelled me to share my speech with my readers.
When this mother approached me after the ceremony, she thanked me for speaking to the students; of making my message be about them and their future. And then she paused for a moment and then added “thanks also for inspiring the rest of us and reminding us of what we could do as well”.
This mother’s comment illustrates an important point that every leader should remember; that it’s not enough to talk of a better tomorrow; we need to inspire people to want to make it happen [Share on Twitter].
That’s why I wanted to share this commencement speech here on my blog – as a reminder of this simple truth; that when we help others to succeed, we help ourselves to become that better version of who we can be [Share on Twitter].
I hope you enjoy it and find within it the seeds of inspiration and hope that we can do better and be better going forward.
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Principal Barnes, teachers and staff at Heritage, parents and invited guests, and of course, the graduates of the class of 2016, it’s a great honour to be once again stand before you on this momentous occasion to celebrate this very important milestone in the academic careers of our students.
As Chairman of the Governing Board, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to previous graduating classes here at Heritage, but I have to be honest in saying that this year’s ceremony holds a very special, very personal meaning for me. As many of you know, I’m not just here as Heritage’s Governing Board Chairman; I’m also attending today’s ceremony as a father, as my daughter Alya is among this year’s graduates whose accomplishments we’ll be celebrating today.
So as I look behind you, graduates, out towards the numerous parents and family members who are eagerly awaiting that moment when you’ll cross this stage to accept your diploma, I can see on those faces the same emotions I’m feeling on this special occasion – of not only happiness and joy, but also great pride in the achievements you’ve attained over these past 5 years.
And to be clear, this sense of pride I speak of is not just the pride a parent naturally has when their child succeeds. Rather, that sense of elation comes from knowing about how you managed the various challenges you faced over these past 5 years; obstacles that at times might’ve seemed too tall to climb over or too heavy to move.
Granted, at times these feelings might have been because you felt that your teachers were asking too much of you; that the assignments and projects were too demanding or that they didn’t give you enough time to get things done.
But I want you to recognize the fact that the reason you’re moments away from stepping onto this stage to receive your diploma and officially graduate from high school is not because your perceptions of these challenges and obstacles was wrong. Rather, I want you to see this for what it is – as proof of your ability to overcome those obstacles and succeed, something your teachers clearly recognized and understood as being your true potential.
And this is one of the most important lessons that you will take with you when you leave our school community because you will encounter naysayers and doubters who will leave you questioning your ability to meet head-on the as-yet undiscovered challenges and obstacles that await you going forward.
It’s in those moments that I encourage you to remember what your teachers, your friends, and the staff here at Heritage have taught you about yourself – of what you’re truly capable of and of how you can overcome the seemingly impossible because you dared to believe in yourself and in those around you.
The fact is the naysayers, the doubters, and those who champion fear over understanding won’t solve the world’s problems and can’t help us to make things better. But know that today’s achievement has shown that the potential to make the world better exists in each of you.
Indeed, that potential has been revealed by your tenacity, your creativity, your drive to challenge and question, as well your willingness to listen and learn so that you might better understand what you can contribute and how you can make a difference.
Each of you has shown through your achievement today that you are not doubters of your own abilities, but the hopeful, inspired builders that our world so desperately needs who can step forward to create a better tomorrow – for yourselves, for your families, and for our community.
In each of you now burns brightly the flame of hope, of optimism and possibility; a bright light that unfortunately our world of today will do it’s best to extinguish under the guise of practicality and preserving a status-quo that serves few, if any.
Of course, the truth is that our world is not a static and unyielding beast. Your generation more than any other has come to appreciate how quickly things can change and evolve, and this truth also applies to the next chapter that each of you are now about to enter.
So when people warn you about how the real world might change you, remember that the power exists in each of you to instead change the world; to be that driving force that proudly proclaims that yes, we can do better and be better than we are today [Share on Twitter].
Again, it’s not the naysayers and fear mongers who will change the world, but those who step up to take a chance; to challenge what is in order to prove that we can be better than this. There’s no question our world faces many challenges, some more daunting than others, and that reality can darken the heart of even the most optimistic amongst us.
But this is where we need each and every one of you to help show the world that we are not defined by the obstacles that stand in our way, but by how we learn to overcome them [Share on Twitter]. By our ability to see possibilities where others only see impossibilities.
Over the past 5 years, each of you has tasted the bitter fruit of failure, and yet that never stopped you from pushing yourselves, from challenging yourselves so that you might instead savour the sweet taste of success. Remember well this lesson that you learned – of how failure is not the end point of the journey, but merely a necessary stepping stone to achieving your goals and dreams.
That’s why going forward, don’t settle for the safe and practical. Rather aim for what matters, for what inspires you, for what drives you. Because in the end, we can only live the life that we choose for ourselves; of how we wish to dedicate the best part of ourselves [Share on Twitter] both for today and in the years ahead.
As we now begin the celebrations of your achievement of graduating high school, I want to applaud you on achieving this important milestone and to remind you to never lose sight of what matters – of living the life you were meant to live. On behalf of the Governing Board here at Heritage, my heartfelt congratulations to you all, the class of 2016.
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