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The reverse commencement speech to leaders

4 min read


We are entering the time of commencement speeches. Some may go viral while others will evaporate as soon as the words are spoken. It is an important time, nonetheless, as a younger generation enters the next phase of their life and leadership path.

A millennial leader address to other leaders

It might be interesting to switch the roles. Rather than an audience filled with newly minted graduates, let’s make the audience today’s leaders, consisting of Boomers, Generation X and the Silent Generation. The commencement address is given by a millennial (Generation Y) leader. What words of wisdom would a millennial pass on to older leaders? It might go something like this:

Welcome to this graduation as we move from one generation to the next. As I look around the audience, I see hands and faces wrinkled by the experiences of time, showing the shock of challenges unforeseen and successes big and small. I see eyes worn by the hard work done yet still shining with the sparkle of what is ahead. These are marks of experience, and you have experienced a lot.

Over the past decades, you have seen wars, economic challenges, and innovation only imaginable in science fiction shows. Maybe all of it was unimaginable because as these situations stared you in the face, you didn’t think too much about it; you just did the work necessary. You led. You led with a steeliness I see in your eyes, and you led using your soul, mind, voice and hands. You had some successes and you had some failures. Some of you lost track of your integrity while others kept your character in check, always trying to be the best you could be.

When you look back at me, my hope is you see bright eyes, filled with wonder and excitement of what is ahead. My hope is you see my skin, little touched by time, yet ready to dive into the experiences that will test me. My hope is that you see beyond the characteristics you have read about in popular articles. I hope instead you see a person, ready to lead, to pick up the baton and carry it forward with renewed energy and insight.

Even at my young age, I had some of the same experiences you did. My generation saw new types of wars, some in our backyard. We saw deep economic pressures and what they did to our neighbors, our parents, ourselves. We also see how fast things happen now, whether in connecting to others or innovation unfolding. We share in some experiences, just not to the same level of detail or expectation.

This begins to turn though. The way we can become better leaders is by discarding any perceived gaps between us and focus instead on sharing our unique experiences and lessons learned. We have so much to learn from each other. Yes, it will be lopsided at first, as you have many more years of experience and many more lessons learned. But if millennial leaders can tap into your experience, just think how much better we can lead.

The same is true for you. You, as older generations, have many years left to lead, to give and to serve. During that time you can tap into our experiences too. In this new age of communication, connectedness, and challenges, we have some insights to offer in how to embrace the possibilities and tackle problems with a new mindset and sense of purpose.

As we leave this hall today, we both have so much ahead to do. Let’s embrace each other in making each better leaders. Let’s rise up to the leadership challenge ahead. Equip millennial leaders with the insights from your wrinkles and the determination in your eyes. Tap into your spirit and see what enlivened it over time and kept it solving challenges while serving others. Let’s close the perceived gaps between us and make each other better leaders.

Let’s lead forward for the generations.

Strength in generations of leaders

Here are the key points:

  • In diversity of ages, we grow stronger as leaders.
  • In diversity of experiences, we strengthen our knowledge.
  • In shared conversations, we close leadership gaps and empower a new generation of leaders.

We need to focus less on the characteristic differences between leadership generations and focus more on sharing our experiences.

Jon Mertz is a vice president of marketing in the health care industry and is a leadership populist, writing to empower and inspire Millennial leaders at Connect with Mertz on Twitter @ThinDifference or on Facebook.