Graduation speech: Short, not sweet


I’ve been a college professor for over 30 years, and I’ve sat through many graduation speeches. Most of them are too long. Nobody goes to graduation to hear the speaker. They go to see their loved ones graduate. I doubt that anyone remembers anything a commencement speaker says. I have several degrees and don’t even remember who spoke at any of my graduation ceremonies, let alone what they said.

If I was ever asked to speak at a commencement, I would make it as short as possible. Here is my address in under 700 words.

Greetings, esteemed faculty, administrators, parents, and loved ones. Congratulations on reaching this milestone, graduates. At universities around the country, graduates are hearing speakers talk about how much talent they have, how hard they have worked, and how they shouldn’t squander their potential. My message to you is a little bit different. It is a message of reality.

You are leaving the soft, green grass on that tiny island in the sea of reality we call the university campus. Beginning with the receipt of your diploma today, the life you have known is over.

You’ve been told your whole lives that you were smart, beautiful, and talented. Those were important messages during your childhood, but now it is time for you to realize you aren’t wonderful just because you exist. It is time to do something with your lives.

No longer will you get a trophy or a certificate just for participating or showing up. In order to be recognized as exceptional, you will actually have to do something to be considered exceptional.

Your future boss is not going to accept excuses that got you through school. “I forgot” or “my printer is out of ink” won’t cut it. You have to perform.

No longer can you call 15 hours a week of class as being “really busy.” You can’t be absent 10 percent of the time and still keep your job. You have to show up even when you are tired, you have lots of other things to do, or you just want a long weekend.

There is a term for people who do this in the real world. Unemployed.

If you cheated to get through school or have a GPA so low you barely graduated, you will never be a bank president or CEO of a major corporation. Get ready for many years of saying, “Would you like fries with that?”

Your parents weren’t kidding when they told you to apply yourself. Don’t make excuses, don’t take shortcuts, and don’t be satisfied with just getting by. You could get along with C’s and D’s and still graduate from college. In the marketplace, we call these people unemployed as well.

No longer can you wander over to the cafeteria three times a day — a gift from your parents — select among the dozens of food options already prepared for you, and turn up your nose. Now, you will have to shop for your own food, pay for it, prepare it, and clean up afterwards.

Your parents love you, but they don’t want you living in their basement forever. Get off the couch, get off your phone, and look for a job — I mean a job that pays the rent.

The job you get may not be the one you want. Nobody gets out of college making the same amount of money that their parents make. It took mom and dad decades to earn their positions and to get the stuff they have. Don’t expect all that the day you move out of the dorm.

Stay out of debt. Live within your means. Don’t rely on the government, your parents, grandma, your girlfriend, boyfriend, or roommate to pay your bills. Be responsible for your own behavior.

Take chances by stretching outside of your comfort zone. Find joy in the challenges of life and you’ll never be down for long. Be the kind of young adult you would want your own son or daughter to marry.

Respect your parents. Call them at least once a week. They invested and sacrificed more than you could know so that you could be sitting here today. Look at long-term goals and decide what sacrifices you might want to make so that you will be where you want to be 20 or 30 years from now.

Be confident, but also be humble. And most importantly, trust God in all things.

There are few joys greater than making your own way and taking pride in self-sufficiency. Step out into life with courage, and may God bless you on your journey.

[Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D., is a college professor, published author, licensed counselor, certified professional counselor supervisor, newspaper columnist and public speaker. He holds an M.A. in Counseling and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Georgia State University and has taught at the college level for over 30 years. His website is]