Saturday, May 14, 2011

2009 Graduation Speaker

Julia Brady showed me this today, a transcript of Frank Warren's (of PostSecret fame) graduation speech to SMCM.  I was around for graduation that day but I completely forgot about this, it's well worth the read I believe.

Twenty years ago, I was sitting among a sea of white folding chairs, just like you are today. I was graduating with my friends from UC Berkeley. I can’t recall who the commencement speaker was that day, or what he or she said. So, in some ways — even though this is the first commencement address I have delivered — I feel very little pressure. But in other ways I feel unprepared and undeserving of this great honor you have given me.

Five years ago I started collecting secrets for an art project I call PostSecret. I invited strangers to write their secrets on postcards and mail them to me, anonymously. Today, I still get about 1,000 every week from all over the world and share them with people on the web and in five PostSecret books. 

These secrets can tell a funny story, expose a sexual taboo, describe someone’s most humiliating experience or reveal hidden acts of kindness. Each secret is unique just like a fingerprint. But collectively they remind us how connected we all are with friends, and strangers, and how precious those relationships can be.

From the nearly half-million postcards that have been mailed to me, I brought one example to read to you. This is a postcard that I carry with me every time I travel to talk about PostSecret. Like so many of the secrets, if you truly open yourself up to them at the core there is a kernel of experience or wisdom that we can learn from. This secret reminds me to always treat the people I meet during my frequent travels with the kindness and respect that we all deserve. And once I read you this secret I think you will understand why.

My home address is on the back of the card along with a stamp and a cancelation mark, this postcard was mailed from Seattle Washington. On the front are six RUSH stickers from an airport baggage handler. The secret reads: You called me an idiot so I sent your bags to the wrong destination. WHOOPS, I guess you were right.

In the same spirit as PostSecret, a month ago, I asked each member of your 2009 Class to write down a brief message on a postcard. I didn’t ask for a secret. I asked instead for a response to the following question: What do my classmates, and I, need to hear on Graduation Day?

I did not know what to expect by tapping into your collective wisdom, but I was soon thrilled by the insight, humor, and inspiration I felt in your earnest one-sentence commencement speeches. Here are just a few.

Be wise enough not to be reckless, but brave enough to take great risks.

It’s okay to fail – learn from it and you will succeed.

It’s better to be pissed-off than pissed-on.

These next three all offer solid advice about making the transition from St Mary’s to the real world.

With the increased prevalence of multi-drug resistant bacteria and the increasingly epidemic worldwide outbreak of swine flu, WASH YOUR HANDS … RELIGIOUSLY.

In the real world, you must wear shoes.

I know some of us are going to walk off this stage today with no idea about what comes next – embrace it, find something that makes you happy, and follow it wherever it leads.

These last two thoughts mention a part of the St. Mary’s experience that several students wrote about — The St. Mary’s River. 

Perfection is something that everyone strives for, yet no one achieves; let the memory of the perfect sunrise over The St. Mary’s River drive your inspirations when you doubt your abilities in the future.

Regardless of where the future takes us, we will still all have one commonality; the river and our time together here.

This final inspirational thought came with a little back-story that I would like to include.

So, I thought of this as I was getting breakfast at 8:30 this morning, after pulling an all-nighter. Yes, an all-nighter on the last night before the last day of classes ever in my undergraduate career. And then, parenthetically, I am still not done with my work, by the way; but I wanted to stop and write this … 

… I might be over the all-nighters in Baltimore Hall, the shower shoes, the no-soap-or-paper-towels-in-the-dispenser, and even the annoying Great Room hours of St. Mary’s College of Maryland; but I will never – EVER be over how each of those circumstances, at this fine institution, allowed me to meet the most fascinating and awesome people I have ever met in my life; I am humbled to call them friends! 

I really hope that person was able to finish up and be here. Are you out there? If you are please stand so we can recognize you. [Enthusiastic Applause] 

About 100 days ago I visited your special campus for the first time. I had a chance to appreciate the surroundings, the woods, The St. Mary’s River. And I got to know students, professors and staff. During that visit, I asked students if they had a favorite secret they had seen on the PostSecret website. One young woman recalled a secret that she had seen last year. It read: My friend believes they will change the world, and I believe them. She pointed out the classmate she was thinking of. I have forgotten the student’s name, but I believe they are here, right now, sitting in a white chair.

My talk is almost over but before I close, I want to confess one of my secrets. It’s not a happy secret and I have never said it out loud before… I have lost contact with all of my college friends from Berkeley. 

In all the excitement of this special day, I hope you will not overlook the lasting value of the people you have shared this meaningful journey with. The friends, who decades from now will remember your face and character just as clearly as The St. Mary’s River.

Don’t wait another minute to ask your classmate, professor or campus staff member for that email address, telephone number, or if you are old school like me — mailing address.

Twenty years from today, you probably won’t remember who your commencement speaker was or what he or she said. But I pray that each of you will never lose the important relationships formed in this extraordinary place with the old friends and new, who believe in you, and surround you, now — in white folding chairs.


  1. That's fucking awesome.

  2. Maggie's speech was somewhat less uplifting, and included the gems, "...many of you won't find work..." and "...those of you that make it to old age..." Not exactly what I needed that morning, drunk on rye, and having no idea where to point my car after I was done clearing out my TH.

  3. That was my graduation! Thank you for posting it. Frank made me cry at least 3 times. He also came to a senior event earlier in the year and mingled with us. Best graduation speaker ever:)

  4. that was me in that white chair - my room mate thinks I can change the world-- and I hope I can live up to that. When I heard that I couldn't help but cry... what a day!