From where I sit, I can hear the celebratory sounds in the air. It’s graduation season. Every year around this time, I get a flutter in my belly. And it’s not the good kind.
Years ago, when asked to give commencement speeches as a nonprofit leader working with youth in the community, I made the grave mistake once of assuming the mere five minutes I had to address graduates wasn’t going to count for much. I was sure my message would be washed-out by the slate of speakers delivering their wishes to the Class of 2010 before me.
I had given several speeches by then; for this one, I thought I could easily consolidate my previous addresses. As I stepped onto the stadium stage, I took in the massive crowd packed full with flowers and smiles and people waving to their loved ones in caps and gowns.
My speech fell flat.
The condensed version came across as generic, unlike my other speeches where I had the time to connect specific points and people in the school to the larger ideals that propelled purpose and life.
Talk about regrets!
I assumed the order and roster of speakers would flood the students with advice by the time it came for me to address them, and they would tune out my message.
Here’s what I would say today if I had two minutes to address graduates:
Dear Graduating Class of 2022,
As you think about the future and what you’d like to contribute to the world, remember to be a kind person. Contrary to what you may have heard, and not to be confused with being a pushover, kindness is not a sign of weakness. I would say it is the opposite. Anyone can be mean or disparaging – that’s easy. It doesn’t take much to spew an insult or respond without considering feelings. But anyone who can evoke kindness as a character trait demonstrates empathy, emotional intelligence, and the ability of discernment, all of which are complex and embody strength.
Expressing kindness helps others feel seen and heard. It results in improved connection to others, where the chance of reciprocation is greater. Conversely, being dismissive and aggressive shadows the potential for better understanding, progress, and unity. It communicates narrow-mindedness, unwillingness, and self-service.
Kindness, like a muscle, can be developed when we consciously exercise it. It is a choice – to either build up and empower or to strip down and erode – and a step toward self-actualization where we fully step into our potential.
As you make your mark in this world, choose kindness as a super strength. When used authentically, it has the power to unlock amazing possibilities.
What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?Jean-Jacques Rousseau
May this season of hope for our future leaders find you in the warm embrace of the early summer sun.
What message would you share with our graduates if you had the opportunity?