Timothy R. Clark: Graduation advice for my daughter

Published: Tuesday, June 18 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

They didn’t ask me to speak at your high school commencement, which saved you from the height of embarrassment. But that was last week.


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Dear Sarah,

They didn’t ask me to speak at your high school commencement, which saved you from the height of embarrassment. But that was last week.

I read most of the major commencement speeches this year and couldn’t resist giving some graduation advice.

My first piece of advice is to ignore the counsel of Tom Brokaw, the former news anchor, who gave the commencement speech at Loyola University New Orleans. He said, “Women still have to make the difficult decisions about how to balance career and family or to choose one or forfeit the other. There are difficult decisions, but there are no wrong decisions.” I like Tom Brokaw, but he got it wrong this time, badly wrong.

Family is the greatest source of happiness in this life. If you forfeit family in the pursuit of career, you will have traded your greatest source of joy for transitory success. Put family first in all you do, and you will not live with regret.

My second piece of advice is to heed the counsel of David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, who gave the commencement speech at Sewanee: The University of the South. He put it this way: “Will I marry well? This is the most important decision you’re going to make in your life. If you have a great marriage and a crappy career, you’ll be happy. If you have a great career and a crappy marriage, you’ll be unhappy.”

This is true. Find a man who loves God and you more than he loves himself and you will be happy.

My third piece of advice is to recognize the power of choice and action that is in you. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, and former president of Dartmouth College, gave the commencement speech at Northeastern University, and offered this wisdom: “Willpower, discipline and focus — the essential qualities for success that everyone needs — are in your hands to develop and build.”

But along the way, remember that things won’t go perfectly.

My fourth piece of advice is to stretch and go to your outer limits. Sometimes, this will happen without your permission. Don’t be afraid. You’ll make some mistakes and have some failures along the way. That’s all right. Keep going.

Drew Houston, the founder of Dropbox, gave the commencement speech at MIT a few days ago. He observed, “As you might expect, building this company has been the most exciting, interesting and fulfilling experience of my life. What I haven't really shared is that it's also been the most humiliating, frustrating and painful experience too, and I can't even count the number of things that have gone wrong.”

My fifth and final piece of advice it to do the right things for the right reasons. Bless people. Don’t worry about impressing them. And when God blesses you, enjoy the blessing and be thankful.

David McCullough, Jr., an English teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts, gave the commencement speech at his high school last year and said this:

“Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion — and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.”

In the midst of our spray-on-tan culture of YOLO narcissism, this is still the way to happiness. You can do it.

Love, Dad

Timothy R. Clark is the founder of TRClark LLC, a leadership development organization. He is also the chief curator for LeaderMaker.org. He holds a doctorate from Oxford University. Email: trclark@trclark.net

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