Commencement Speech, 2003

 

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Commencement Speech
Le Lycée Français, Class of 2003
16 June 2003



Madame Esther Kabbaz, Madame Clara-Lisa Kabbaz, esteemed faculty and staff, honored guests, parents, family members and graduates of the class of 2003:  thank you for asking me to be your commencement speaker.  I'm honored and humbled to be here.

I am negotiation consultant.  I teach negotiation seminars all over the world.  I’ve traveled to most of the continents and I’ve met and taught people from Aruba to Zaire.  And yes, from France, as well.  But I have a confession.  I don’t speak French.  Both my sons do, since they are graduating from the fourth and third grades this year, but not a lot has rubbed off on me in the last five years.  The extent of my French is pretty much limited to the most useful phrases like, “Excuse me, but may I please use the bathroom,” or, “Good morning, how are you?”, “I’m fine, how are you?”  I’ve also learned how to say, “Put it on my friend’s tab.” I’m hoping that one might come in handy from time to time.

But then again, maybe I speak more French than I realize.  The English language has a lot of French words and phrases that we use every day:  “Rendezvous,” “finesse,” “déjà vu,” “communiqué.”

But there’s another French word that carries with it a pretty negative connotation, and that’s the word “cliché.” Clichés. They get spouted off with an alarming degree of regularity in movies, our newscasts, the books we read, our parents, our teachers, and yes, especially during speeches.
 
Graduation speeches particularly tend to be rife with clichés.  They invariably have references to pretty brainy stuff like Aldous Huxley’s “A Brave New World,” along with great thinkers like Aristotle, Plato, Kant and Kafka.  But for the life of me, I can’t remember the last time I actually used any of that stuff out there in the real world.


So I figured I was going to mercilessly edit out anything in this speech that sounded remotely like a cliché. But the more I tried to come up with something other than, “You stand on the dawn of a new era, full of hope, full of promise,” the more I realized that, maybe - in this case - clichés might actually reflect some stuff that’s going on out there in the real-world. In fact, clichés are repeated so often because, at least at one time, they did hold a measure of truth.

So at this point, let’s just talk about some of those clichés that might have an application or two out there in the real-world.

The first one is this:  Time Flies. 
I know…  it’s supposed to be, “time flies when you’re having fun,” but listen,  Time doesn’t care if you’re having fun or not.  Time… just… flies.  Look, I know you don’t believe me now, but it’s absolutely astounding how fast time zooms by.  Yesterday, you started school.  Today you’re graduating.  Tomorrow your own kids are going to be starting school.  It happens so much faster than you can possibly believe.  So enjoy yourselves and each other now.  A wise man once said,

“Live Now.  Make Now always the most important time.  Now will never come again." 

Actually, Captain Picard said that on Star Trek, but I thought it sounded pretty hip, so I included it…

Also, don’t waste your time waiting for things that aren’t important.  Hey, *I’m* still waiting to lose my baby fat!  But listen, how you look is so much less important than who you are.  Your happiness has a whole lot more to do with how you see the world than how the world sees you.


The next cliché is, Don’t worry about it.
It’s utterly foolish to worry about things you can’t control, especially about the future.  Listen, the future’s going to happen.  You can’t control it.  You can control how you react to it - that is your choice.  My mom used to have a sign in her kitchen that said, “Worry is like a rocking chair.  It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t take you anyplace.”  Don’t worry if you don’t know what you’re going to be when you grow up.  *I* didn’t know until I was 43.  And particularly, don’t worry about what people think of you.  Mainly because, in most cases, they’re NOT thinking of you.  They’re worried about what you’re thinking of them!

Next:
Watch your mouth.
I’m not trying to preach here, but be careful what you say, guys. Words mean things, and fair or not, like it or not, you’re judged by the way you speak.  Look, other than stubbing your toe on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, or smacking your thumb with a hammer, there’s only one of three reasons that you swear - either,

(1) You don’t know any better,

(2) You’re trying to impress somebody, or

(3) You’ve got the habit so bad you can’t quit.  

The world judges you by the words that come out of your mouth.  NOTHING will sink your hopes of reaching your full potential faster than a vocabulary spattered with obscenities.  Trust me on this one, folks… watch your mouth.

How about this one:
You Learn Something New Every Day
Guys - you think school’s over?  I’ve got a flash for you, folks.  It’s just beginning.  You’ve been taught so much in the last 12 years - I know, sometimes it feels like your head’s full; you can’t fit anything else in there.

Everybody gets that feeling.  Sometimes, when somebody tells me something new, it displaces what’s in there.  “Really?  I never knew that!  Whoops, there goes long division!”  Learning never stops, folks.  Welcome to school.  Welcome to life.

Here’s one that I always thought was a little bizarre… 
Idle Hands are the Devil’s Workshop

I’m not talking about lounging around watching TV from time to time.  That can be one of life’s great pleasures, unless you can’t find the remote. Then it can actually involve some exercise.

Folks, a life lived with a sense of purpose and commitment is a lot more rewarding than one that drifts. Find a cause, something you believe in, and get behind it. We’ve got a lot of problems in the world, and the world needs all the help it can get. Don’t you dare sit on the sidelines wishing things would change, wishing this were a different kind of world. It can be a different kind of world, but it's gonna take a lot of people exactly like you to help change it.

Here’s one:  No matter where you go, there you are.

I don’t know who came up with THAT insightful bit of logic, and usually, when people quote that one, they think they’re being incredibly witty and charming.  I heard it put in a different way, once.  I was stuck in traffic with a friend who hated being stuck in traffic.  He’d beat the steering wheel and yell out the window, “Don’t you people have homes to go to?”  I was steeling myself for his explosion when he turned to me and said, “Everybody’s gotta be somewhere, might as well be here..”  I was impatient to get home, honked off with the traffic, stressing at the amount of time it was going to take - and all of a sudden, this guy pops off with ten words that really brought me up short. 

Tell you what, the next time you’re stuck in traffic, or the express checkout lane when the person ahead of you has *eleven* items and insists on writing a check, repeat that phrase to yourself - “Everybody’s gotta be somewhere, might as well be here..”   You’ll be amazed how your tension level drops. 

The last one is a particularly “LA” phrase:  Love ya, Mean it!
See all these people here?  Right now, take a moment to look around you. Your parents, your brothers or sisters, your grandparents… whoever is here honoring you today by coming to your graduation ceremony - these are your families.  They’re here because they’re proud of you and they love you.  Your friends are here for the same reason.  Well, that and the fact that they’re graduating too, and they HAVE to be here, but that’s beside the point.  Treasure your family, folks.  You’re here, for the most part, because of them, and because they decided, a long time ago, that they wanted you to have the best education possible.  They were the ones who foot the bills, *and* who’ll be forking out for college for most of you, as well…  so be nice.  But we have more than one family.  There’s the family you’re born into - you’re sorta stuck with them.  And then there’s the family that you choose - your friends.  These are the people who are going to help you get through your life - the good times, and more importantly, the bad times.  So choose your friends wisely, choose them carefully.  And when you choose, treat them with love and respect.  And keep track of them.  They can get lost very quickly.

And now, the two most anticipated words in graduation speeches:  “In closing,” In closing, I'm going to give you a seven of the most vital things you're ever gonna need to know.  They have absolutely nothing to do with the topic of clichés, but they’re too important to leave out.


First, floss every day.   


Second, always wear comfortable shoes. You never know when you may have to run for your life. 


Third, start saving money now. 
 

Fourth, never argue with an idiot. It’s like wrestling with a pig.  You just get dirty, and the pig loves it.
 

Fifth, practice everything in moderation. Except moderation, which you should practice in excess.
 

Sixth,, always check for change in the Coke machine.
 

And finally, from time to time, do something that scares you, or challenges you. Speak in public, sing in public, dance in public.  Just try not to look too stupid when you’re doing it. 

To the Graduating Class of Le Lycée Français - This is a remarkable day, and you are truly remarkable people.  Thank you one and all for letting me share it with you.  With all my high hopes, congratulations, and best wishes for your future.