I have made my way through most of the Desert Island Discs archive so I needed something else to listen to while doing mundane tasks and thus discovered university commencement speeches on Youtube. I should probably be listening to TEDtalks for their more weighty content but I like commencement speeches because they are catered to an audience of my age. As I am about to graduate they make me feel like the world is my oyster and I can do anything (if only for the 40 minutes). They are fail proof: never depressing or too serious, always a little sentimental and they motivate courage and bravery in me for the years ahead. Naturally, I mostly listen to those given by people I admire, or recognise, although I am keen to branch out as the less you know the speaker the more you learn. My favourite has been Meryl Streep’s at Barnard College in 2010. Streep never says a duff word in public and I loved her recent appraisal of Emma Thompson in Saving Mr Banks at the National Board of Review gala where she praised Thompson’s motives:
Emma considers, carefully, what the fuck she is putting into the culture. Emma thinks: Is this helpful? Not will it build my brand? Not will it give me billions? Not does this express me? Me! Me! My unique and fabulous self, into all eternity in every universe for all time? Will I get a sequel out of it, or a boat? Or, a perfume contract?
Streep also marvelled at the brilliance of the real life P. L. Travers who was one of the first women to cross Walt Disney, famously patriarchal:
It must have killed him to encounter, in a woman, an equally disdainful and superior creature, a person dismissive of his own, considerable gifts and prodigious output and imagination.
Yet back to Streep’s very personal commencement speech at Barnard where she proves herself to be a self described ‘rabid, man eating feminist’ and encourages the young generation she is addressing to carry on fighting for gender equality:
This is your time, and it feels normal to you. But, really, there is no ‘normal.’ There’s only change, and resistance to it, and then more change
A valuable lesson was learnt from listening to Maria Shriver’s address at her daughter’s graduation: the power of the pause. Shriver describes how when she was young, and about to graduate, feeling ‘bad about herself’ as everyone was asking her ‘Do you have a job? Do you have a job’ and then once getting a job everyone asked her ‘What are you going to do next’. She warns that the ‘what are you going to do question’ will bug us the rest of our lives. Memorable. I take her advice to appreciate the power of pausing, and reflecting, in life:
Pausing allows you to take a beat — to take a breath in your life. As everybody else is rushing around like a lunatic out there, I dare you to do the opposite. I’m asking you to learn how to pause, because I believe the state of our communication is out of control. And you? I believe you have the incredible opportunity to fix it.
Welcomingly I learnt a little about business at Sheryl Sandberg’s (COO of Facebook and author of Lean In) speech at Harvard Business School, and admire her direction to create roles for yourself. I took on board with excitement J K Rowling’s persuasion to always use your imagination and ALWAYS explore your curiosity. I could go on forever and hope to go on forever happily listening to these pearls of wisdom. I look forward to hearing Oprah Winfrey’s (in true Oprah fashion she has given a few) and Hilary Clinton’s and even venturing towards men’s: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Aaron’s Sorkin’s.
Hopefully you will listen too.