Most of Northeast Mississippi’s seniors, high school and college, will have graduated by today, each class taking with it words of encouragement, and maybe some hard reality, offered for them by commencement speakers.
The ritual is enduring and occasionally inspiring, as has been the case for generations of students across many parts of the world.
Time magazine has compiled its list of the 10 best, if not for all time at least for the past 72 years, because the oldest speech is by Winston Churchill, the British prime minister of the World War II years.
Churchill was a Harrow man, and in the frightful days of the war (1941) he returned to his school to offer views on those uniquely trying times (a far greater threat than is faced today in any political situation) and told the students, “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
If the men and women of that Greatest Generation were tougher and more resourceful, at least some of the credit could be due to inspiring words, well chosen, both immediate and enduring.
In a more contemporary context, Apple founder Steve Jobs addressed Stanford University graduates in 2005, not long after he had been diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer.
Jobs, who was a college dropout, told the Stanford graduates:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. … Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.
“When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog … It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand …
“Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: ‘Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.’ … And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.”
Jobs did not survive pancreatic cancer, but he overcame many other obstacles to make an amazing mark on our time.
This season’s seniors were only 10 when Jobs spoke at Stanford, and he would be the first to admit that many have gone on to even more amazing careers since.
He didn’t claim perfection. He merely offered sage advice. Stay true to yourself, and as Churchill said earlier, never give in.
NEMS Daily Journal