Commencement Speeches Aren’t Just for Graduates

Blacksburg High School graduate at Burruss Hall, Virginia Tech campus On June 10, 2011, I sat in the sweltering hot Burruss Hall auditorium at Virginia Tech, fanning myself with the Blacksburg High School graduation program, waiting for the ceremony to begin. My interest in being there was singular: I was there to watch my daughter walk across that stage and accept her diploma. Five minutes before the graduation ceremony was to begin, I stopped fanning and thought to open the program to find out who was scheduled be the commencement speaker. I smiled as I read the name “John Boyer.” 

John is a professor of geography at Virginia Tech and creator of the freedom fighting web comic persona, The Plaid Avenger. I knew, at the very least, his speech would be entertaining. What I did not know was that John’s message was not “just for the kids.”

As John began to talk about the future, the next steps these teens would take on their journey into adulthood, he said there were three things they needed to do:

  • Execute ideas – it’s not just enough to have great ideas, you have to execute them, to put them into action in order for ideas to matter.
  • Find out what you are passionate about and pursue it.
  • Be near the game. If you want to be in the game, get near the game. 

I listened as John made these statements, adding anecdotes and examples to help the kids visualize what they needed to do in order to get where they wanted to be in life. But, all the while I thought he was speaking to me about what entrepreneurs need to do to be successful, especially the part about executing ideas. It was a great takeaway and I’ve started each day since then asking myself “Which idea can I put into action today?” 

Blacksburg High School’s commencement address was not the only one I took lessons away from this month. Jonathan Hoster, assistant director of undergraduate admissions at Syracuse University, sent me the link to the speech given by Dennis Crowley, Foursquare co-founder and Syracuse alumnus, who spoke at the graduation ceremony for the university’s School of Information Studies (iSchool)

Here, Dennis told the story of his own pursuit of passion and ideas and how in a relatively short time, following graduation from college, he went from a six-figure income to making $6 per hour before creating the success Foursquare has achieved. One thing both commencement speeches had in common was this: whether you’re just getting started in life or business, you have to execute ideas in order to have any chance at success. Now that’s a lesson worth taking away.

You’re invited to read more from Z. Kelly Queijo on Handshake 2.0.

Z. Kelly Queijo is founder of Smart College Visit, Inc., a Blacksburg, Virginia-based higher-ed marketing company focused on mobile app and mobile web development with a special interest in creating travel and location-based tools and services., a college search and college visit planning portal, has been listed in the Top 100 education advice blogs and as one of the top 5 college visit sites. You are invited to follow her on Twitter @collegevisit.

Z. Kelly Queijo is a client columnist for Handshake 2.0.  Smart College Visit, Inc. is a client of Handshake Media, Incorporated, the parent company of Handshake 2.0.

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  1. Along with humor and engaging audiences, it’s a challenge to offer a diverse audience a
    message that will resonate and leave them with gifts for their journey ahead.

    Here’s an example of a storied approach to this challenge. A collage of stories is used to
    offer students three gifts for their journey (judgment, compassion, and mercy).


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