Talking with Graduates About the Future: Reach High

Graduation season is beginning. A time of sentimental looking back but mostly a time of anticipation of what lies ahead. I gave an 8th grade graduation speech a few years ago. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share excerpts with you here as food for thought to this year’s graduates.

Striving for Success

You, graduates, chose as your graduation theme: Striving for Success. It’s a good theme because it highlights the connection between effort and achievement. And we all know that to achieve your goals, you must work hard.

Reach High

REACH HIGH. That’s the first thing. Don’t settle for what’s easy. Think BIG. Push beyond your comfort zone. Put your own special mark on whatever you choose to do.

Oprah Winfrey recently was invited to give the graduation speech at Harvard University. And she talked about reaching high. She was dealt a terrible hand in early life. Her family was so poor she had to wear dresses made from potato sacks. And she suffered abuse at the hands of grownups around her. But like all of us, she was born with talents.

One of her particular talents is the ability to communicate, to make people feel like she understands them and cares about what they think. This raw talent is a great gift. But the hard part is figuring out how will you use your talent….

When Oprah was 16 years old she was participating in a beauty contest in Nashville Tennessee. As with all beauty contests there was a question and answer portion and she was asked “What would you like to do when you grow up.” She answered “I would like to be a journalist.” But more important, is what came next. She said, “I would like to tell other people’s stories in a way that makes a difference in their lives and the world.”

It was this – telling other people’s stories in a way that makes a difference in their lives and in the world – that has guided Oprah throughout the twists and turns of her career.

She started in radio when she was just 17 and then moved on to TV where she could reach millions of viewers. She was a local news anchor and then became a talk show host and with her unique, warm, personal style she used her show to get people thinking about important things. She raised awareness about important issues – gun control, illegal use of steroids in sports. And she stuck to her vision. When other talk shows became trashy, Oprah refused to join them because her true goal was not just to be a talk show host but to make a difference in people’s lives. She used her show to start a national book club that got people excited about reading. She used her show to raise money for important projects. She reached high with a goal of changing the world. And she used that as her compass. And she still does.

Each of you has talents waiting for you to use. Most of you will not go into your next phase knowing exactly what you want to do with your lives. Your main job in high school is to get good grades so you have the BEST opportunities when that next graduation rolls around. Deciding what your life goal is will probably unfold a little bit at a time. But be aware. Use your time and experiences in school to think about what makes you tick. Try new, and sometimes difficult, things. Don’t be tentative. Give it your all. Reach high.

Share your stories about graduating

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