I love graduation season. We are right in the height of it, and I can't wait. Just among our children, nieces and nephews, we have four of them in the next month -- two college, two high school -- six, if you count middle school (I told you, I really love this stuff). For me, this season is filled with limitless possibilities, dreams of new chapters, memories of grades and schools just completed. I love the pomp and circumstance, the pageantry, the euphoric moment when those caps are tossed in unison into the (in my imagination) always-blue sky. I even like (in very small doses) the suffocating polyester ceremonial robes.
But most of all, I love the commencement speeches. In fact, I am a bit of a junkie. I watch them online over and over. I watch the speeches on TV. I tell my friends about them. I share snippets with my kids. I really am drawn to and inspired by the big, broad, empowering common themes that never get old. "Find your passion!" "Make an impact!" "Absorb new experiences!" "Pursue your dreams!"
I graduated from college 26 years ago this past week. I remember ever part of it -- the parties the night before, how we stayed up way too late (Ok, we didn't sleep at all). The sun was literally burning down. It was the trifecta -- graduation, Mother's Day and my parents' anniversary. And when the swell of emotion became overwhelming (or maybe it was the heat), my best friend's grandfather fainted during the ceremony. Luckily, he was fine. And we still talk about it and sigh with relief.
Most importantly, I remember the commencement speaker and his enduring words. Ted Koppel, the legendary newscaster and host of "Nightline," took the podium on that memorable day. In May of 1987, Mr. Koppel was focused on what he saw as the demise of morality. And he said something that I have repeated dozens of times over the passing 25 years. With his characteristic grace and eloquence, Mr. Koppel spoke about the need to be good, to be kind, to live worthy lives. "When Moses went up Mt. Sinai to get those tablets, he didn't bring down the 10 suggestions." WOW! What a visual -- Moses on the mountaintop providing the tools that the sea of enthusiastic 21-year-olds thousands of years later should live by. He spoke about the "Vannatization of America." Vanna White, co-host on the "Wheel of Fortune," was at the height of her popularity. Then, as now, she didn't have a significant speaking role. Mr. Koppel spoke about how we attribute all kinds of qualities to this silent woman -- aunt, sister, mentor, boss -- all because we are looking for our own moral compass.
I have never forgotten those words. Many years later, I had the privilege of being at an event in NYC with Mr. Koppel. Enthusiastically (and maybe even a little like a stalker), I stopped him. "Mr. Koppel, you spoke at my commencement in 1987 and I will never forget what you said. Thank you." I mentioned the 10 suggestions. I mentioned Vanna. I can't say whether it was meaningful to him, but it sure was to me.
As I prepare for the graduations I will attend, I anticipate the tears of joy that I will shed, the tissues that I will work through, the hugs I will want, and the memories that will flood my mind. I will think of all the hard-fought words of wisdom that I have learned and want to share -- as if I will only have this one opportunity to tell my graduates. I will want to arm them with every tool I can think of as they embark on their new journeys. But then I will take a deep breath, and remember the simplicity and importance of those simple words. I will say to my daughter, my son, my nephews and my niece: "Be good. Be kind. Be strong. Don't forget the 10 commandments. They weren't suggestions. Now go out and find your passion. Congratulations! I love you!!!!"