The Season’s Best Advice

Photo by Ryan Paul Maxwell — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

This is the season of the graduation speech. In elementary schools, all one needs to know is that everyone is a star ready to shine. For university graduates, the world is a little more complicated.

To help graduates, our future artists, here are a few samples from some of the best graduation speeches of ‘09:

Paul Hawken @ University of Portland

…the earth needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

Robert Rodriguez @ University of Texas at Austin

I’m from a big family. I can’t waste money. It’s against my genetic makeup. So, I had to substitute money with creativity and that’s what made all the difference. So, I had to make a movie in a way that broke the traditional mold and learn not to be a slave to tradition. Traditional thinking will hold you back… Be ready and willing to fail. Failure is good. It means that you’re seeking new ideas.

Bill Clinton @ Florida A&M University

The most important question of the 21st century is not what or how much, it is ‘How?’ How do you propose to turn your good ideas into positive changes in other people’s lives? You must be the ‘how generation.’

Ken Burns @ Boston College

Insist that we support the sciences and the arts, especially the arts. They have nothing to do with the defense of the country; they just make the country worth defending.

Smokey Robinson @ Berklee College Of Music

When you get a chance to earn a living living your dream, you cannot beat that. So if that happens for you, embrace that with your entire being.

John Legend @ University of Pennsylvania College of Arts & Sciences

As a nation — and as a world — we need more truth. Let me repeat that. We need more truth… Searching for truth is in many ways the same as searching for your soul. Since I am touted as a soul singer, I’m often asked to define what soul is. Well, it’s hard to define, but I’m sure that soulfulness and truth are very closely related. Soul isn’t about a particular race or a particular genre of music. Fiona Apple can be soulful. Bruce Springsteen can be soulful. Lil Wayne can be soulful. Frank Sinatra can be soulful. Soul is about authenticity.

Barbara Ehrenreich @ UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism

As long as there is a story to be told, an injustice to be exposed, a mystery to be solved, we will find a way to do it. A recession won’t stop us. A dying industry won’t stop us. Even poverty won’t stop us because we are all on a mission here. That’s the meaning of your journalism degree. Do not consider it a certificate promising some sort of entitlement. Consider it a license to fight. In the ’70s, it was gonzo journalism. For us right now, it’s guerrilla journalism, and we will not be stopped.

Re-program the world, create new work, discover new approaches, be authentic, and fight to tell your story: the future of art is now.

- Bill Reichblum

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