I was told that one defines his or her purpose by thinking what you want to be written in your own obituary.   As such, reading other people’s obituaries can also be beneficial to gain perspectives. I generally find reading obituaries to be too depressing.  Instead, I like reading (or listening to) commencement speeches. I cannot remember when I developed the habit but I think it is before TED talks became popular.  Ironically, I did not remember anything about the speaker at my undergraduate commencement as I did not even attend it.  When I finished my master’s degree, my mom, traveling across 12 time zones, and I attended the ceremony.  In fact, my mom has a picture of me receiving the diploma.  However, I cannot remember anything about the commencement or the speaker.  Obviously, the speech could have been forgettable.  I suspect the primary reason is that I did not pay any attention.  When I was in my early 20s, I  thought I know everything.  Obviously, I would not listen to older people including the speaker at my commencement. Over time, my perception of older or wiser people changes.  This makes sense as I learnt from my lessons.  Some of the stuff from the prior generations may be quite valuable.  It should have been obvious but this may have been a common blind spot of the youth.  Words are cheap but celebrity and other well-known authorizes can command a hefty sum of money at the speaker circuit including corporate events, conferences, etc.  Despite the attractive fees, typical keynote speech is a perfunctory affair.   Commencement speech is a little different.  In some cases, the speakers were awarded some honorary degrees by the school. Many of them are alumni.  They would be successful in their respective domains for them to be selected commencement speakers.  The speech is typically short and the purpose is to inspire the fresh graduates.   In front of the graduates and their parents, faculties and the community, I think the speakers tend to speak authentically or from their own experience.  Obviously, many commencement speeches follow the same theme.  However, where could we learn from successful people telling us their lessons and secret sauces for free?  I like reading biographies for the same reason.  However, commencement speeches are condensed lessons and ready for assumption right away.  Listening or reading commencement speeches can give someone a lift as it is meant to be inspirational.  For those interested, the following list (not in any specific order) contains a few good commencement speeches.

 

1 Jeff Bezos We are What We Choose
2 Michael Lewis Don’t Eat Fortune’s Cookie
3 Steve Jobs You’ve got to find what you love
4 Adrian Tan Don’t work.. Avoid telling the truth. Be hated. Love someone.
5 Bono Because We Can, We Must
6 Bill Gates Dad, I always told you I’d come back and get my degree
7 Denzel Washington Fall Forward
8 David Foster Wallace Commencement Speech at Kenyon College
9 Winston Churchill Never Give In
10 Bradley Whitford Commencement Speech at University of Wisconsin, Madison

 

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