Commencement orations at all scholastic levels contain the same basic ingredients: praise for what the student congregants have done to get to that point in their lives; thanks to teachers and parents; a woe-is-us contemplation of the present; and hopeful words about the future of the addressees.
The graduates, especially the new college alumni/alumnae, are told that they are part of a generation of individuals that will shape the future of their country in an increasingly complex world, and that they need to sign on to their upcoming obligations. That is the traditional mega-thought for the occasion; it’s expected and it seems it has to be said to make the commencement official.
As the father of two sons who have commenced on new responsibilities in the last few weeks – one is preparing for college in the fall and the other is on his new job in New Hampshire – I have listened to a fair share of speechifying in recent days, most all of it written well and given well, some of it sparkling with new takes on ancient themes, and all of it well intended. What I had hoped to hear over those hours, but didn’t, is a speaker’s offering mini-thoughts about life in the adult lanes of life, about the sorts of values that parents and family members often practice in front of their children and at their workplaces but then don’t promote to their offspring as simple keys to individual success.
• When someone does something nice for you, the first step when you get home should be to a desk where you pick up pen and paper and send a thank-you note to your benefactor. Or, this being the 21st century, where penmanship seems to have given way to extremes of cursive individuality, a word processor will do as long as you sign it in your hand and mail it. Save delivery by e-mail, texting, Facebook for lesser communication fare.
• When you find a job, no matter the size of the operation, do some research about the company’s founders and their values, and get to know the people beyond peers in your work area and those to whom you report. The fellow who empties the wastebaskets around the office, the woman who takes your money in the cafeteria, the guard at the front door, the secretaries along the corridor all play a role in making your workplace attractive and efficient and they deserve your day-to-day respect — delivered personally, by name.
• Greet everyone whom you pass by even if there is no reciprocation. Don’t try to figure out if the person is a snob or is shy or is pre-occupied by big thoughts; just say hello and move on. Many of the people who count will remember this about you.
• Salute the golden rule of treating others as you would want them to treat you. Groups in high school and college have their own values about friendship, and it’s easy in those settings to leave others out of whatever the groups are up to. But in the workplace, leaving people out of the loop for reasons of personality or varying personal interests can be costly; they just might have the answers.
• Finally, though the list can go on and on, a friend recalls getting this pithy prescription from one of his elders: Keep things simple; think out loud [so that others will know what’s on your mind]; and be kind.
I’ll close with another saying that rings with truth: Little things mean a lot.