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A commencement address to the class of 2020

Graduating this year isn't like any other year in memory, but there are still lessons to impart as the next generation enters the workforce.

4 min read


A commencement address to the class of 2020

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It has long been an ambition of mine to deliver a college commencement address, and now that we are all sheltering in our homes, now is as good a time as any.

Congratulations, class of 2020.

Welcome to the next chapter of your life.

At the moment, the first few pages of your new life may not seem so exciting. 

Goodbyes unsaid. Hugs not given. Tears shed.

But take heart, you are more prepared than you may think to move forward.

One of my heroes, Winston Churchill, once said — and he said a great many things — “We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself … the means of inspiration and survival.”

Survival comes from persistence. Inspiration comes from the energy you draw from helping others.

The world still awaits you, and from my perspective, as one who graduated high school a half-century ago, needs you, too. We need your brains, your energy, your life force. We are in the grip of a pandemic, and it’s all hands on deck.

Follow the words of the great jazz composer and conductor Duke Ellington, who said, “A problem is a chance for you to do your best.”

To move forward, here are some suggestions.

  • Think critically. Most of you have been in formalized education your entire lives. Now is the time to think and do for yourself. Challenge your assumptions. Beliefs of your childhood may not stand the scrutiny of your aging. Think for yourself.
  • Respect science. If ever there was a time when we need women and men to believe in science, it is now. The novel coronavirus — yes, it’s new, but it didn’t come from a Mexican beer — will be tamed or eradicated by medical science. The effects of the virus will be mitigated by you and me all following guidelines on physical distancing developed by scientists
  • Believe in yourself. Your education, whether you earned a scholarship or your parents provided, is an investment, perhaps the biggest you will ever make in yourself. While you will be new to the workforce — if not today, then someday in the future — you should feel that you have accomplished something good for yourself. Self-confidence comes from a sense of accomplishment. You will need that confidence — a bedrock belief in your abilities — to succeed.

Recall the words of the Jewish proverb, “I ask not for a lighter burden, but for broader shoulders.”

Most important, we need you. The world will be a better place for having a cohort of educated women and men. Now is the time to put your schooling to good use.

Whether you are going into the workforce or pursuing a graduate degree, continue to learn. Things change so quickly that only those who keep abreast of knowledge will succeed.

One more thing, don’t forget to laugh. The world can be cruel, but that is no excuse for not laughing. “Laughter,” wrote the Irish playwright Sean O’Casey, “is wine for the soul — laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness — the hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living.”

Laughter is an elixir. The physical sensation of laughter produces hormones that are good for you. And, by extension, good for the rest of us. Laughter is contagious. Spread it wisely and openly and generously. Use it to celebrate life and the very joy of living.

Class of 2020, you are our future, and we’re counting on you.


John Baldoni is an internationally recognized keynote speaker and executive coach who provides his services via video conference. In 2018, Trust Across America honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Trust. Also in 2018, named Baldoni a Top 100 Leadership Speaker. In 2020, Global Gurus once again named Baldoni a top 30 global leadership expert, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2014, named Baldoni to its list of top 50 leadership experts. Baldoni is the author of 14 books, including “MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership” and his newest, “GRACE: A Leader’s Guide to a Better Us.” You can find his tips on leading in a crisis here.

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