My Graduation Speech…for incoming High School Students


Your personal white board is clean. Write on it wisely.

I posted this as part of another post last June 2010. I’ve updated it and gave it is own post. Incoming high school freshman have a clean white board and an exciting opportunity. As a Dad of a college junior and a high school junior, it is so clear how choices made as an incoming Freshman high school student (not to minimize a foundation for self management and personal accountability that was established years ago) play a significant part in how the student graduates. This isn’t based on just my two kids, it is based on observing them and all of their friends and classmates. So based on my observations, along with my experience in the work world, I offer the following graduation speech for those moving from junior high to senior high school.

As you aim for high school, you have an incredible opportunity before you. Think of this time as a clean white board. I don’t mean to suggest your past doesn’t matter. Your past is a part of your future . If you perceive your past as positive, you can choose to carry those thoughts forward. If you consider your past to be less than you desire for the future, you can make choices about that too. You see, you have choices you are making right now.

But let’s test your perception of your past. Close your eyes. think about your first kiss (if that has happened already). Your favorite book you’ve ever read? Your favorite TV show… and movie? How do you see your parents? Your teachers? Your coaches? Your grades? Your study habits? Your desire to be involved?

All of this is going to impact your future. If you see your past positively, it will serve you well as a foundation for the future. If your past was personally less than ideal, it can serve you well as a motivator for creating that better future for yourself. Either way, the future is totally in your control – others do not have control of your future – only you do.

Even though you’ve taken several history classes already, you relate most easily to events that have occurred in your own past – your own past is like a drop of water in all the oceans of our great world. What that means is, don’t let your personal experiences limit you. Don’t let your current self perception dictate what you do tomorrow. The majority of teenagers feel inadequate and insecure. Some show their insecurity through shyness. Others through egotistical behaviors. This insecurity comes partially from being intelligent and partially from giving too much power to the concern for others’ perceptions. The intelligent part refers to the fact that you recognize your current ignorance about yourself and the world around you – that’s smart.

Giving too much power to others comes from a lack of sense of self. A lack of self understanding is easily changed. The more you do…that is, the more activities you engage in – especially outside your comfort zone, and the more you do for others, will give you a better sense of self. If you choose to disengage or to follow others rather than lead yourself, you’ll still get a sense of self but it won’t be accurate. Also, personal development experiences will come along slower and they will probably not be as beneficial.

Give yourself permission to study and enjoy learning world history. To give you an idea of how important history is, place yourself into the future, let’s say about 30 years. Today becomes the past. Your entire high school experience has already happened. Now let’s say you are extremely successful 30 years into the future. How did that happen? How did you become extremely successful? Was what you did in high school a part of why you are so successful 30 years out? Did any world events during your school years frame your thinking and shape your motivators? Now that you are successful, how do you define success?

As you emerge into adulthood, life experiences will be overwhelming at times. For some of you, that time has already happened. If your life has been hard already, I salute you and send you a big hug. I promise you will be rewarded. For all of you, you will experience tough times and overwhelming events through your entire life. It isn’t a matter of “if” you have a hard life. You will have a hard life. Let me say that again. “You will have a hard life.” The real question is “how will you lead your life?”. Will you see your life with happiness and gratitude? To answer the question for myself, my life has been a journey. Not an easy journey. I’ve come to realize that hard work isn’t good or bad. I’ve chosen my view of acceptance of life’s hard work. I’ve also developed a great appreciation for what I do and for so many people that have been in my life.

So, what’s your opinion?

Does money create happiness? Click on the link to answer the survey question.
Answer with either yes or no or I don’t know.

I think my happiness increased the most when I stopped judging and started learning. Do you judge your classmates? Or do you learn from your classmates? Do you judge your teachers or learn from them? Do you judge your parents or learn from them?

There was a time I thought I wasn’t very intelligent. It was during my elementary and junior high school days. I learned many years later that I had many intelligences and in fact some were much higher than average. Instead of being egotistical about my abilities, I am humbled by my abilities. I also see everyone else with the same colored glasses…each of you are extremely talented and above average.

How do I know that? You see, I’ve been running a quasi-experiment for 30 years without really knowing it. In my work as a consultant to corporations, I help CEOs and managers select the best person for a particular job or position in those companies. In all of my work, I never measure IQ or “intelligence” to  predict how well a particular candidate or employee will perform. What I measure has more to do with something you already have right now. Your personal talent.

Your talents are already established. All you need to do is add a little ingredient called passion. Of course you need Life Skills and knowledge and use your moral compass. But with passion, your talent, knowledge and a solid foundation in specific life skills guided by a moral compass will take you to a successful future – I guarantee it! Without passion, the other stuff won’t matter much. Don’t let anyone convince you that you aren’t smart enough. You are smart enough – regardless of your grades today. What will count most is that you find what excites you and that you always act with integrity. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive. For success to find you requires you finding what excites you. There are many paths. You will take several of them to find your success in life. You can do it by chance or you can take control. Either way you’ll get there. For example, you’ll probably have the opportunity to do some career exploration in your Freshman year. You can blow it off or see it as an opportunity. One choice is a slower path than the other path. But in the end it is your choice – to take control of your life or not.

In closing, remember the words stated by many including Quarterback Drew Brees at the Loyola University New Orleans, 2010 Commencement: “Love what you do. You will know it when you find it. Enjoy the journey.”

Now is the time to invest in quality research about you – who you are, what you want to do. You are at the beginning of your journey. The white board is clean. Create the journey that fits you.”

Link to Drew Brees’ speech: http://www.loyno.edu/news/story/2010/5/3/2115

I hope you found this entire article helpful including the links to the full commencement speeches. More 2010 commencement speeches are available at http://www.forbes.com/2010/05/03/commencement-graduation-speakers-2010-leadership-speech.html. Also, if you are in search of an effective student career exploration program, please visit http://www.careercoachingforstudents.net.

Carl Nielson is the developer of Career Coaching for Students™, the premier career exploration program for high school and college students. Nielson is the founder of Success Discoveries (www.successdiscoveries.com) and The Nielson Group (www.nielsongroup.com), a global organizational management consulting firm. Prior to consulting, he served over 20 years in corporate human resources management. He holds a degree in organizational psychology from Texas A&M University. Find Carl on LinkedIn.

If you are looking for true career coaching for students, look at http://www.careercoachingforstudents.net. We offer a high school program and college program. Are you past the college years? Check out free resources at Success Discoveries. Professional career coaching services offered. See what a real career coach looks like.

Copyright © 2010 Success Discoveries, LLC
Career Coaching for Students™ is a trademark of Success Discoveries, LLC
Life Skills for Students™ is a trademark of Success Discoveries, LLC

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