My Commencement Speech to the Class of 2017

Every year around this time, I write a speech that I would give at a graduation. In the 20 years I have been doing this exercise, I have never been invited to speak at a commencement. That said, here are my words to the graduating class of 2017.

It’s graduation time, looking out at all your faces, I remember when I sat in my robe, my eyes twinkling, my future uncertain, my life ahead of me. I remember the excitement, the fear and the unbelievable pride that I reached the point in my life that I was leaving high school and moving on to the real world.

Stop it. I don’t know if I would be excited to leave the bubble and safety you’ve experienced for the last few years. I’m not sure I would want to jump into the craziness that we call a world today and I’m definitely not sure that the real world is better than the fictional safe world you are all leaving.

We live in perilous times, extremism is rampant, economies are collapsing, terrorism is around the corner no matter where in the world you are. It’s scary times and sometimes I wish I had the opportunity to return to the safety of high school, the sanctuary of my parent’s loving house and the false sense of security I felt as a teen.

I know you are all thinking, what’s he talking about? We have our futures ahead of us, we have a future! We will change the world, we will make a difference, the world will transform itself to our value system, the economy will pick up, we’ll be ok.

The truth is, you will be ok, actually more than ok. You will be the inheritors of the problems, of the train wreck that my generation has left you. You will be the torchbearers, the leaders, the only people who can make a difference.

A few years ago, John Mayer sang that he and his friends were waiting for the world to change. But why wait for someone else to do the work? Use your knowledge, pursue your passion, change the world. Criag Kilberger was only 11 years old when he saw the injustice of child labour in India. Today, his organizations affect millions of lives. Craig is not special, he’s not a superhero. He was a young man who wanted to make a difference and he did.
11 year old Marley Dias, a black sixth grader in the US noticed that her school library didn’t have any books that featured major characters that looked like her. When she complained to her mom about the problem, her mom’s answer was “what are you going to do about it?”.
Accepting the challenge, Marley started a campaign to called 1000 black girl books. The campaign was to collect 1000 books about Black girls. She far exceeded her campaign and distributed the books to three majority Black countries. She continues to collect books and her goal is to distribute them to every school library in North America.

Ambition, drive, determination, that’s all it takes. Leave the bubble you are in, take chances, follow your dreams, continue your education, build your businesses, run for office, change the world.
I will never tell you it is easy, the world is a crazy place that is only getting crazier. But if you want to make a difference, if you want to build a society that will be beneficial for your children and grandchildren, you must start now.

Don’t wait for someone to suggest or push you to do something. Take the reigns and as Nike says, just do it!
Congratulations to the class of 2017, my prayer is that your wisdom, kindness, compassion and understanding will transform this world full of hatred to one full of love. That your skills and uniqueness will create a society that breeds peace and tranquility and that you will do a better job running the world than my parents generation and mine. G-d bless you all, Congratulations!

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