I created a bucket list before they were fashionable – or even called a bucket list. I was twenty-five at the time, filled with hubris, and created a list of 51 things I wanted to do before I died.
Looking back at the list, I’m not doing too bad. I’ve married, become a father, written a few books, taken my mother to Disney World, visited Paris and walked on the field at Fenway Park.
Other items on the list now seem ridiculously out of reach.
I’m unlikely to hold an elected office, won’t ever get to shoot baskets with Larry Bird or win an Oscar for best original screenplay.
Yet when the opportunity comes to scratch something off the list, I cherish it. And so was the case, when I was recently asked to deliver the commencement address at my alma mater, Penn State.
I’m not sure why my twenty-five year old self would include such an event on a bucket list. Perhaps it was a sign of “having made it.” Moving from the first in my family to graduate college to actually delivering a commencement speech is a bit of a leap in one lifetime.
I’d be lying, though, if I didn’t also recognize that there was a lot of ego driving not just that item but several on that list. It is only natural to be twenty-five and place an emphasis on individual achievement versus some type of communal experience – that benefits not just you but others.
As I began to write my speech, I started from a place of ego. How could my words stand the test of time? Maybe the speech would go viral, perhaps even turned into a book – so magnificent and wise my words would be.
Then after talking with some students, I realized that a commencement speech should have very little to do with the speaker’s aspirations and everything to do with the audience’s reality. In this case, students who have had an experience like none other.
Commencement is after all, about their beginnings not my ends.
So ultimately this talk is unlikely to join the pantheon of great oratory – but hopefully for any student graduating this year and their families – it might provide a few pearls to get them going as they begin a new chapter of their story.
Feel free to share this speech with anyone you know who is graduating, at any level, and let me know how I’ve done. It should be up to them whether I should really be able to cross it off my list.
Congratulations to the class of 2021.