Best college commencement advice for new graduates

Here are 5 college graduation speeches selected from my perch as a college president that impart lasting wisdom

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In the coming weeks, students around the nation will hear their names read aloud, walk across a platform and move their tassels to signify graduation from high school or college. After years of working toward receiving their diploma or degree, they are now off to start a new adventure in their lives. 

For many of these graduates, there’s the exhilaration of stepping into a new phase – whether it’s heading off to college or starting their careers. And, for others, there may be the apprehension of not knowing what is next. 

As a college president, here are five pieces of advice I have for graduating seniors.

VIRGINIA DAD, A VETERAN, GRADUATES COLLEGE ALONGSIDE HIS DAUGHTER

1. Savor the moment. The past few years leading up to graduation weren’t easy. They were probably met with tears, frustration, late nights and struggles. When you walk across the stage, cherish the moment. Recognize everything you went through to get where you are today. You deserve to be acknowledged, so enjoy it.

In a commencement address at Howard University in 2018, Chadwick Boseman, the late award-winning actor, said, "So, savor the taste of your triumphs today. Don’t just swallow the moment whole without digesting what has actually happened here. Look down over what you conquered and appreciate what God has brought you through."

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2018 photo, actor Chadwick Boseman poses for a portrait in New York to promote his film, "Black Panther." Boseman, who played Black icons Jackie Robinson and James Brown before finding fame as the Black Panther in the Marvel cinematic universe, died of cancer at the age of 43 on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2018 photo, actor Chadwick Boseman poses for a portrait in New York to promote his film, "Black Panther." Boseman, who played Black icons Jackie Robinson and James Brown before finding fame as the Black Panther in the Marvel cinematic universe, died of cancer at the age of 43 on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)

2. Step into the day with gratitude. Graduation ceremonies go by quickly. Make sure someone takes photos of you when you walk across the stage and with people who have helped you get there. And, take the time to thank every individual who propelled you to where you are today. 

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3. Live courageously. Graduation is a time to embrace the celebrations and look to the future. Although this is an exciting time in your life, you have to recognize that there will still be challenges ahead. The difficulties you will face in the future will help shape and develop you into who you are meant to be. 

It’s imperative that you stay true to who you are and not let the obstacles you encounter keep you from what you are pursuing. 

In her graduation speech at Wellesley College in 1982, American poet Maya Angelou said, "It is upon you to increase your virtue, the virtue of courage—it is upon you. You will be challenged mightily, and you will fall many times. But it is important to remember that it may be necessary to encounter defeat."

Author Maya Angelou in a May 20, 2010, file photo.

Author Maya Angelou in a May 20, 2010, file photo. (AP)

She went on to explain the process of how a diamond is formed under extreme pressure. But, if the diamond had not undergone that amount of pressure, it wouldn’t be the beautiful stone it is. You will need the courage and strength to continue to move on during strenuous times or defeat. When the pressure mounts against you, remember to keep your eyes set on the future.

4. Stick to your principles. When you graduate and move into a new environment, there will be all kinds of outside influences on your life. It’s imperative that you stay true to who you are and not let the obstacles you encounter keep you from what you are pursuing. 

15-YEAR-OLD GRADUATES WITH BACHELOR'S DEGREE FROM UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, LAS VEGAS

During our commencement ceremony this spring at Southeastern University, Kristen Waggoner, general counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, shared with students on the importance of keeping their faith. She said, "When you fully commit your vocation, when you courageously live out your convictions, I promise you will feel such a deep soul-satisfying gladness that you never imagined possible."

Too often, graduates will lean into the standards that others set for them. Refrain from comparing your accomplishments with those around you. Pursue excellence and be the best version of yourself. Stand firm in who you are, and don’t let outside distractions keep you from achieving your goals.

5. Follow your passions. Some students know what they want to do after graduation, while others still have yet to figure it out. When I graduated from college, I had a good sense of what I was passionate about (communication and investing in others), but I wasn’t sure how it would play out. Following my passions led me to a career in broadcasting and eventually in higher education.

During Stanford University’s commencement ceremony in June of 2005, entrepreneur Steve Jobs said, "I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love…If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle."

FILE – Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple and CEO of Pixar Animation Studios, speaks during the 114th commencement at Stanford University in Stanford, California on Sunday, June 12, 2005. 

FILE – Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple and CEO of Pixar Animation Studios, speaks during the 114th commencement at Stanford University in Stanford, California on Sunday, June 12, 2005.  (MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)

Every detail of your life doesn’t have to be planned out when you graduate. Find something you are passionate about and pursue it with everything you have.

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Never stop learning. Whether you are graduating with a high school diploma or a college degree, make it a priority to keep learning. To excel in whatever you do, you must have a growth mindset.

In 2000, at Southern University’s graduation ceremony in Baton Rouge, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Nelson Mandela talked about the power of education. He said, "All that is important is that you should give yourself the opportunity to have the most important equipment in life and that is education."

 In this June 17, 2010 file photo, former South African President, Nelson Mandela  leaves the chapel after attending the funeral of his great-granddaughter Zenani Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

 In this June 17, 2010 file photo, former South African President, Nelson Mandela  leaves the chapel after attending the funeral of his great-granddaughter Zenani Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa.  (AP)

Mandela went on to say how students should strive to reach the highest degree in their field in order to perform the best they can. For every graduate, additional education will look different – whether it’s more degrees, certifications or various licenses. However, try to always keep an open mindset that you still have much to learn. Successful individuals never settle; they keep discovering.

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Graduation is just the beginning of a new adventure that awaits you. While you anticipate what is to come, make sure to embrace the season you currently are in. 

Make every moment count as you celebrate how far you have come. 

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