The graduation season starts this weekend for me. One niece from college, another from high school and a goddaughter from 8th grade all enjoy a little pomp and circumstance this year. I hope to enjoy a good inspirational speech laced with a bit of humor. I won’t hold my breath. In my experience, commencement addresses rarely rise above platitudes or offer a thought that will be remembered at any reunion.
Last year, at another niece’s graduation, one of the three speakers (one or two would have been sufficient) spent his allotted time emphasizing that if history repeats itself things will get better, but not any time soon. This Civil War historian told the student audience that they would probably not get a job right away and if they did it probably wouldn’t pay what they wanted or be in their preferred field. But don’t worry. If he/his parents survived the Great Depression, they will survive the Great Recession.
I applaud him for not offering any platitudes and for delivering such a depressing speech that I still remember it one year later. I don’t remember anything from the three higher education commencement ceremonies in which I marched the long aisle to receive a diploma. (Yes, three. I had a course correction on the way to my eventual career.) Not one of them included an innovative businessman (Steve Jobs, Stanford 2005), statesman (John F. Kennedy, American University 1963) or comedic pundit (Steven Colbert, (Northwestern University 2011) of whom I would have at least remembered the name if not the words. (For a list of great commencement speeches see: Time Magazine 10 Best Commencement Speeches www.time.com/time/specials/packages/completelist/0,29569,1898670,00.html)
The only words I recall from my last degree are “Not Guts. No Glory.” That phrase became my motto in business school. It’s what I repeated to myself as I prepared to take my seat in the cubicle farm wearing a floppy bow tie and pinstripe suit. In the mid-1980s I was part of the surge in women infiltrating the male business world. I needed guts and a whole lot more to succeed.
I didn’t have a motto until I was asked by my university to talk to a local news anchor doing a segment on businesswomen. Hard to imagine that just being a woman in business school was news. I guess the public wanted to know how were we different from our male counterparts? What did we want out of a career? Did we have a business philosophy?”
I looked for a sound bite so I would make the evening news and found it in a Sandra Boynton Recycled Greetings card where an adorable little pig dared a large hippo, standing on top of a ladder, to jump into a teeny bucket of water, or something like that.
“My philosophy is no guts, no glory,” I told the seasoned anchorwoman. I am not proud that I used a greeting card greeting as my anthem. I’m not so proud that I spent time trying to figure out how to game the interview. I am pleased that I made the news – that was fun. And now that I know history repeats itself I’m pulling my platitude-like motto out of the mothballs to prepare me for the challenges ahead and to offer it to any new grad who wants it.