Commencement speeches at graduation ceremonies around the country are a long-standing tradition. They serve as both a reflection of what has been accomplished by these graduates, but also as a ceremonial beginning to the next chapter of their lives. How these messages are delivered vary based on the speakers, yet the overall message is very similar.
What do our high school and college graduates have to look forward to in 2012? By the numbers, unemployment rates for college graduates younger than the age of 24 for the first four months of 2012 stand at 7.2 oercent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This compares with 9.1 percent in 2011, 8.1 percent in 2010 and 7.8 percent in 2009. The bureau also indicates that 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent of those holding bachelor degrees younger than the age of 25, were jobless or underemployed, the highest figure in 11 years. High school graduates continue to experience unemployment rates that are twice that of college graduates.
Reflection of what the graduates have accomplished centers around academic achievement. Receiving a diploma indicates they have successfully completed at least the minimal amount of required course work, with many exceeding that goal. As a teacher, I viewed achievement as so much more. These students that came to school kindergartners have grown so much physically, intellectually and emotionally. As a teacher/coach/advisor, it was an honor to be involved in such a transformation. Watching students struggle with their identity, their purpose, and confidence in their own abilities is an incredible experience. Aiding each student as they struggle to find the answers to these personal challenges, priceless.
As every commencement speech looks back on accomplishments, the main focus shifts to looking to the future. The future is scary because it is full of unknowns. If you were to look at the numbers quoted, you would see a cup half empty and full of discouraging news. The beauty of the future lies in the fact that each student will determine what and who they are going to be. Each student's choices, efforts, degree of willingness to overcome obstacles standing between them and their goals will determine their success in achieving their happiness.
Commencement speakers are remembered for their small pearls of wisdom meant to provide students guidance in this pursuit such as:
"Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears and never regrets." - Leonardo de Vinci
"Live life as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." - Mahatma Gandhi
"An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest." - Benjamin Franklin
"Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday." - Dale Carnegie
"Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." - Thomas Edison
"The future brings to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." - Eleanor Roosevelt
To graduates, I say congratulations on what you have accomplished up to this day. The knowledge, experiences and friends you have acquired thus far are for you to keep and cherish for the rest of your lives. Your next challenge lies in the future you control through your decisions, attitude, and effort. Memories and knowledge that you will continue to acquire are yours forever. If you persist in gathering both, you will live out the dreams you have on this graduation day.
Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.