"What Now?" by Ann Patchett
"This is Water" by David Foster Wallace
"Navigate Your Stars" by Jesamyn Ward
"Make your Bed" by Admiral William H McRaven, USN Ret.
I have attended countless graduations--- my own, my siblings, my children and my nieces and nephews. Those events are a blur in my mind of hot muggy weather, irritating flies and mosquitoes and exhaustion with the occasional hangover. I usually make an effort to listen to the graduation speaker at the beginning of the talk but my general discomfort and fatigue mean that I zone out pretty quickly. So I have found it surprisingly fun to read a few graduation speeches in the cool comfort of Thornwell Books.
The selection of authors I have chosen is not very diverse. Patchett, Wallace and Ward were all English majors in college. They are gifted authors in their own right. These are not dull, sleep-inducing talks. Admiral McRaven is a former Navy Seal not a professional writer, but his book has been required summer college reading for schools like Wake Forest University. So, no bad writers in the group. I was most curious about the similarity of the advice they dispensed. Are there universal truths that adults feel is most important to share with young people? While each writer came at the problem in a different way and with different examples and levels of detail, they were surprisingly consistent. Be persistent in following your dreams, keep an open mind, pay attention to the world and people around you, engage with people, practice kindness. If I were asked to give a graduation speech embodying the most important lessons I have learned in life, I think I would say the same things but not as eloquently.