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There is so much we could say in a commencement speech for 2021 graduates; but it can all boil down to this.

As winter surrenders to spring and the number of those vaccinated soars past more than 100,000,000 Americans, our office has been receiving far more requests for both live and virtual presentations. This is phenomenal news not only for our organization, but for all still reeling from forced shutdowns; a clear sign that we are finally coming through this crisis.

Currently, several clients are considering us as their commencement speaker.

As such, I’d have less than ten minutes to speak with graduates who are turning the page on an important chapter of their lives, stepping into a post-pandemic world, and likely dealing with significant anxiety around what their life will be like next.  These young people are dealing with their own personal struggles, managing their apprehension, imagining what’s possible, and launching into the unknown. And I’ve only got ten minutes to congratulate them on graduating, encourage them to remain bold, and challenge them to do worthy things in their lives.

My friends, I’m not sure I can even tie my tie in less than ten minutes. So in those fleeting, precious moments, what should I share with them?

World-class inspirational speaker and author John O’Leary has this to say to 2021 graduates.

Well, I’d start by affirming that their life is an invaluable, priceless, gift. It’s worthy of boldly, vibrantly living each day, finding gratitude for all they have, staying open to all that remains possible, and remaining diligent in the pursuit of both personal success and selfless significance.

I’d then remind them that it will be easy to get discouraged as they journey forward. We all do. In this light, I’d encourage them to remember that it’s not the demanding circumstances and temporary setbacks that define us, but rather our choices during them and the way we choose to live after.

I’d share how common it is to pursue ease, dollars or status. A society that loves to celebrate the busy and brash, glamor and glitz – often tracks success through the wrong metrics. I’d encourage them to utilize their talents for a cause that is truly worthy, that might change the world, one life at a time. Starting with their own.

Do this to counter the cynicism and tribalism that continue to mount.

I’d concede the recent uptick of pessimism and cynicism and nihilism and tribalism. And then implore them to push against it by stepping forward as a living, vibrant, beautiful embodiment of all that is good, right and possible.

I’d acknowledge the cancel culture is waiting for them. One errant word, misstep or wrong action could elicit the virtual mob’s wrath on any issue. And yet, our graduates must recognize they win nothing, ever, by canceling those who feel differently than they feel. Instead, use their disagreements and differences as a way to learn; through further discussion and new relationship. If everyone in the room chose to do this, might it not draw those who feel disenfranchised and disconnected into a collective solution?

Most importantly, I’d remind them that they’re launching into a world of individuals acting as if they’ve got it all figured. But when it comes to personal finances, intimate relationships, family dynamics, professional growth, emotional wellness, or physical health, we’re all in progress. We need to lean into one another to become our best. Made for community, we benefit by being there for each other. Asking for help doesn’t make us weak, it makes us real. And if there is one thing we absolutely need, it’s real people to do life with.

But then, I’d look down, see my watch, and realize I’m 45 minutes into the commencement speech, the proud parents are restless, teachers angry and graduates nodding to sleep.

So, I’d simply share how nervous I was when I was preparing to launch from high school and venture off to college. I wasn’t sure who my friends would be, how I’d fit in, what I would major in, and how to do my own wash. That evening, through the unknowns and unspoken concerns, my grandfather handed me a card with a short note jotted in it. I can’t remember what the note read, but below his name was written, “Micah 6:8.”

That evening I had to look it up. I’ve not forgotten it since.

The words are as relevant now as they were 2,700 years ago when Micah spoke them.

The one bible verse that we all need as 2021 graduation season approaches.

“And what does the Lord require of you? To seek justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Seek Justice. Love Mercy. Walk humbly with your God.

In one short passage the graduates today would be reminded real success won’t be found in moving faster, striving incessantly, living selfishly, playing shallowly, or judging others.

That one line would remind them the gift of slowing down, recognizing what really matters, identifying what really doesn’t and embracing the awesome gift that this life is.

It wouldn’t even require the full ten minutes. And yet, it would be a great message for our graduates.

It would also be a great message for those of us in the stands.

This is your day. Live Inspired.

2 replies on “The One-Sentence Commencement Speech for 2021”

As my beloved son prepares for his high school graduation, I can’t think of a better way to send him out into the world than Micah 6:8. I can always count on you to get straight to the essence of of what really matters. Thank you, John!

This is great motivation for a Monday. Thank you for always living inspired and inspiring others! Have a blessed day, John O’Leary!

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Live Inspired Together is a community of friends changing the world together, starting with their own. In a world that often focuses on negativity, John O’Leary - Live Inspired shares the other side of the story through his member-supported channels (essays, Live Inspired Podcast, coaching texts, video, webcasts, social platforms) to connect our community and share inspiration and actions to live it. Support now.