Well it's over. This past February I accepted an invitation from the Dean of Liberal Arts to deliver a post-commencement speech to its 500 graduates, their families, advisors, mentors, faculty and anyone else who entered the ballroom at the convention center. I delivered the address last Sunday and have lived to tell the tale. I am passionate about the benefits of a Liberal Arts education and I love working with students. It was a no brainer to accept the invitation when it was offered but maybe I should have given it more pause. What in the world could I come up with that could inspire a group of generalist that everything that they had been reading wasn't true? Would I lie and say the job market really was great and that their prospects for employment were awesome? No, I couldn't live with myself if I did that. How about spewing life clichés ad nauseam and watching their eyes glaze over? That would guarantee that they would forget my name 30 seconds after leaving the convention center's doors! Choked with work obligations and children's woes, I figured out quickly that there was no easy way to do this and pulled this task onto my already full plate. Yes I was going to have to sit my butt down and come up with something that was meaningful and memorable yet worked with my ‘don't sweat the small stuff' personality.
As I often do when I'm in a crunch, I gathered inspiration from my teenager. At 18, he has provided endless fodder for my essays, speeches, and other creative material. Never knowing what he is going to say or do next guarantees that something from our chaotic lives can be utilized as a lesson learned. So I reached into his tool bag and chose a topic. For the last couple of years he has been saying over and over again, ‘Let me do me!" Usually it was in response to some plea that he at least pretend to have a plan that made sense or to pay attention to his fluctuating grades. "You do you, and I'll do me!" he would say. My response, "You don't have enough experience to even know who you are doing!" So on it's gone for the past few years between us.
I remembered a quote from Marianne Williamson that confirmed the ‘do you' philosophy. It said, "The purpose of our lives is to give birth to the best which is within us." That meant ‘do you' right? And so I ran with the theme. I told them that simply getting a degree in Liberal Arts implied that they agreed with the philosophy. We all know that Liberal Arts grads get beat up for not drilling down to one area of study like nursing or law! I shared that one has to be firm in their convictions when completing a degree like art history and everyone is questioning the sanity and the efficacy of the decision. College isn't cheap these days and folks want bang for their grossly inflated buck.
I told them how I'd used my undergrad and graduate Liberal Arts degrees by connecting the dots between my history classes and my life in Europe, my political science course work and my career as a lobbyist, even how my sociology background has helped in contract negotiations. They seemed to listen. I shared that it was ok to kiss a few ‘frog' jobs before settling down, and that they needed to embark on the process of identifying who they are and how to use that in the job market. Finally I told them to put at the head of the priority list time to nourish the creative things they love --whatever that love may be. Topped off with a few practical tips on how to approach their career search, I charged them to jettison their fears and move boldly forward.
They seemed to get it. I've received great responses and some have shared that they felt more empowered to tell people to buzz off when they were hassled about their educational choices. All in all they genuinely seem enthusiastic about the challenges ahead. It's been refreshing. The generation behind me appears to be a bit more in touch when it comes to work life balance. They are trying to avoid my generation's tendency to define a ‘good job' as one that pays well and doesn't require back breaking work. Indeed they will need to maintain this passion. Successful navigation through this world requires strength, boldness, tenacity, and a real sense of oneself. The faster they understand this, the happier they'll be. And so I again exclaim, "Do you Class of 2011, Do you!" I hope their still listening.