The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

June 13, 2014

Short and sweet: Words for graduates

Thursday, June 12, 2014 — I do not remember the message of my high school commencement speech. I don’t even recall who spoke. Nor do I recall the message or speaker from college graduation.

Perhaps, it’s because commencement speakers attempt some grandiose speech whereby the message gets lost in eloquent verbiage.

I submit part of the problem is timing. Between the euphoria of just accomplishing one of life’s greatest feats, at least for a teenager, and the eagerness to celebrate, the last thing a recent graduate wants to do is sit still for a few hours and listen to one more lecture about what lies ahead. After 12 years, 13 counting kindergarten, an 18-year-old high school graduate is more concerned about a celebratory week at the beach than planning his fiscal future. Each word uttered during graduation ceremony is simply noise amid daydreams of fun in the sun at the nearest beach.

When I graduated high school, my best friend, all the way back from the first grade, and I rolled out of the parking lot of Ovens Auditorium peeling off our caps and gowns in the car for a week of well-deserved adult entertainment at Myrtle Beach, otherwise known as another form of higher learning. And we were not alone. The Grand Strand was suddenly the destination of hundreds of thousands of new graduates wanting to burn off a mixture of harnessed hormones and an eagerness for the next big thing.

Consequently, graduation speeches have short shelf lives. Regardless of the topic, the attention span of graduates has been reduced to only a few words, preferably something like “surf’s up!”

That’s why most graduation speeches are not intended to do anything more than stoke a fire already ablaze. Anything heavy will fall on deaf ears, or ones tuned to a different frequency. They briefly inspire you to storm out of high school with the intention to carve out a legacy, taking no prisoners and making no apologies. By the time you’re a few miles east nearer to sea level, there’s only one place in your immediate future to leave a mark.

So, I’d like to take this opportunity to honor this year’s graduates with a few choice words. Literally, instead of another long-winded attempt at inspiration, I want to keep it brief. I’m offering up short, memorable phrases that should serve you well when applied under the right circumstances. Now that you're reasonably educated, you'll have to figure out which cliché to apply as well as where, what, when and how.

A few of these phrases are original, others borrowed from the world of arts. I guarantee at some point in your awaiting future you’ll utter or rely on these words as you search for the courage to fulfill them while in pursuit of the next big thing.

Follow your heart. Keep it simple. Know your role. Take the road less traveled. Do it your way. Listen and learn. Save money. Love is the greatest of all things. Go for it. Laugh often. Make a plan. Be willing to change a plan. Time is a wasting. Nothing worth doing is easy. There are no free lunches. Stay within yourself. Put up or shut up. Walk the line. A glass should always be half full. Less is more. Education increases options. Find happiness. Take the long way home. Be a friend. Don’t procrastinate. Do more than your share. Moderation is key. Know your limitations. Never fear. Just do it.  Early bird gets the worm. Take time to cry. Be the first to hug and the last to let go. Smile more. Regret doing something than doing nothing. Keep check of your appetites. Be spontaneous. Think outside the box. Love. Keep the faith. Stay strong. Live within your means. Be yourself. Grieve loss. What would mama think? Live like you’re dying. Make a memory. Go down swinging. Err on the side of benevolence. Keep photos. Hope is a good thing. Follow your dream. Life is a journey, not a destination. Embrace triumphs. Believe in God.

To submit story ideas, contact Ritchie Starnes at (704) 982-2121 ext. 28 or at

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