A Tale Of Two Commencement Speeches

This past weekend, two very high-profile alumni from two very high-profile academic institutions went back to their alma mater to deliver Class of 2017 Commencement speeches. Hillary Clinton was at Wellesley College and Mark Zuckerberg was “just down the street” at Harvard University.

I too was at the University of San Diego for my daughter’s graduation ceremony where she received a Master of Science. Just two weeks ago I attended my son’s undergraduate ceremony at IUP outside of Pittsburgh. You could say I’ve been in the commencement spirit lately, listening to multiple speeches the last few weeks. I get chills listening to the send-offs as these young folks start their adult lives. It’s so exciting. Brings me back to my own days at Cornell and Columbia.

I listened ferociously, more than once, to both speeches from Hillary and Mark as I’m big fans of them both although for very different reasons. There were several notable distinctions between the two speeches, the one being that Mark never graduated from Harvard but Hillary certainly graduated from Wellesley.

Didn’t seem to matter…how awfully Baby Boomer and Millennial of them both!

On the surface, these two folks couldn’t be farther apart. Not politically, mind you, but in their essence. Hillary spoke about what was going on when she graduated in the Nixon era, and how shockingly similar it is to now. Mark also spoke about his days on campus, but they were shockingly not that long ago, in the age of the entrepreneur!

She spoke about losing the election (clearly not her goal), and he spoke about making massive amounts of money (also stated that this was not his goal). He spoke about his friends coming together to create the movement that is now Facebook, and she spoke about her friends coming together to make change.

Both have created a lot of change.

What struck me most about Hillary’s speech is when she spoke about what she had learned from her election loss: “Here’s what helped me the most of all: remembering who I am, where I came from, and what I believe.” (I’ve directly quoted)

What struck me most about Mark’s speech is how similar his message was, despite the clear and obvious Millennial bend which he noted several times: have a purpose but not just an individual purpose but a collective purpose to improve others’ lives. (I’ve paraphrased)

Here are two people generations apart, college degrees apart, and public vs. private sector yet they are basically delivering the same advice: know who you are and what you believe in, and then join others to put it to good use. Basically, be your own personal brand but make sure you are giving back to your communities. Like any brand.

No matter the speaker or the university or the generation or political bend, I’d say that’s advice I’d pass along. As a dad, a marketer, and as a member of the world community.