It’s that time of year, students of higher education are engaging in final exams and for those graduating in May and August, and the load is particularly heavy. We’re in the spring and summer commencement season; a season where scholars are ending one stage of their academic life, and launching another educational phase or beginning a professional career.

For me, this is a time of reflection – one year ago I attended the spring commencement of a young friend. Chuyun Sun received a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Engineering from The Ohio State University (2018). It was nice to be in the state which I was born, partly raised, and witness an elaborate commencement ceremony at one of America’s prestigious universities.

December 2018, I had the privilege and honor of attending another commencement. This ceremony took place in the city which I reside, Gainesville, Florida; home of the University of Florida. My friend Chenyi Yang received a master degree in Environmental Engineering. UF is another prestigious top 10 institute of higher learning in the United States. I appreciate the families of Chuyun and Chenyi for inviting me to witness with them the pageantry, pomp, and circumstance of these two deserving graduates; this was an honor to behold. And I will forever look upon them as mentees whom I played a small part in helping shape their future by providing guidance and insight when needed.

Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, delivered an inspiring commencement address on May 6, 2018, at The Ohio State University. As a graduate of OSU, Ms. Desmond-Hellmann spoke eloquently about the ups and downs during her life after college. She challenged the graduating class: “Graduates, as you think about what comes next, move your thoughts from thinking about ‘me’ to thinking about ‘us.'” As a matter of fact, that’s the title of her speech – From Me to Us, consequently, placing less emphasis on self and more on others.

On December 15, 2018, Stephen A. Stills, singer/songwriter, Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, and Philanthropist delivered the fall commencement address to graduates of the University of Florida. Mr. Stills, having lived in Gainesville, Florida during his youngster years, attended J.J. Finley Elementary School, and Gainesville High School shared “I was asked to attend the university’s remedial prep school, and told that I had been granted provisional admission to the University of Florida. I received an A+. The catch was that I had to wait until the following fall term to begin my freshman year.”

The commencement speech is a time-honored tradition, an art-form in spoken word. As a writer of this type of speech (and other types) I hereby give a brief opinion on the two addresses mentioned above:

Was the occasion honored? Yes. Both speakers honored the graduates and memorialized the event with an inspiring message. In this regard, Ms. Desmond-Hellmann gets the nod as more stimulating, challenging, and enduring.

They were themselves. The two speakers were genuine and came across as down-home with the right amount of humor and anecdotes. Plus, they informed us about their young lives and the transformative years.

The opening. Desmond-Hellman – “Imagine we had a time machine and you could fast forward 20 years from now. It’s 2038; we’ve got hoverboards, tourist trips to the moon, 3D printed food… Life is tremendously exciting. But what about you? What are you doing? Why don’t you close your eyes for just a moment and think about that?” It’s a delightful, attention-getting opening; asking the audience questions, and asking the graduates to answer the questions by actually participating.

Mr. Stills – “I am delighted to have been invited to join you on the occasion of your graduation from the storied University of Florida, and offer you my heartfelt congratulation, my immense admiration and vast appreciation for your outstanding achievement in having successfully survived college life – and much to your surprise, might have actually learned something.”

Two openings with different angles. Both serve the purpose for which they are given. One is more formal than the other. Between the two openings there’s no better one. Having made that statement I now say this, with a penchant for formality, I prefer Mr. Stills’ opening..

Slow pace and speaking well. I give both speakers an A on this one. Their voice inflection, tone, rhythm, and audience appeal were nicely done. Time-wise, commencement speeches should be 20 minutes or less. No more than 20 minutes. Both speakers came under this time stop sign.

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