My Commencement Speech

A few months ago, I was one of eleven students nominated to give the commencement speech at graduation this year. After going through a round of interviews and discussing “what I learned in college” I was chosen to be one of five to write a draft of my speech and audition before the selection committee. In the end, I was not chosen to give the commencement speech next week. But I wanted to share with you the speech I would have given. Whatever rites of passage or life changes you may be going through, I hope you enjoy it.

Named after Genesis 40:8, I called it, “Tell Me Your Dreams.

There is a passage in Alice in Wonderland where Alice asks the Cheshire Cat, “‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’” The cat responds by saying, “‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.’ `I don't much care where--' said Alice. ‘Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat.”

My name is Zach. I am a business major and it is my pleasure to speak with you today. The cliché commencement speeches always talk about dreams. I didn’t want to try to be original, so I figured I’d talk about dreams too.

While the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are fun, I’d like to share another story with you. The story is about one of the world’s most famous dreamers: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1963, Dr. King spoke in Washington DC, to crowds of over a thousand people. This was the first speech of Dr. King’s that was ever televised, and of course, the most famous line is “I have a dream.”

Some years later, a man named Clarence Jones, a close friend and aide to Dr. King reported that the speech he and King had written and rehearsed did not contain the line “I have a dream.” In fact, it was just moments before the speech began that gospel singer Mahalia Jackson approached Dr. King and said, “Tell them about the dream Martin.” According to Clarence Jones, in that moment, King tossed aside his speech and his famous dream was born.

What I like about this story is that it reveals that dreams are not always these lifelong vocations that we inherit at birth. A lot of speeches try to convince us that we should all have our dreams figured out, when in reality, they often come to us in the oddest most unexpected ways.

Maybe your dreams changed these past few years. Maybe the degree you started out in is different than the one you are receiving today. Maybe you did something you never imagined you’d do like join Greek life or study abroad, and maybe that experience changed you forever. Maybe you had an internship that totally opened your eyes to a field you knew nothing about.

Maybe somewhere in the past few years, your dream was born.

Despite what the Disney channel and every college movie tries to convince us of—I think that dreams are what college is all about. The ideas you have as a freshmen are different than the beliefs you have as a senior, but your time in college lets you explore, reshape, and discover your dreams.

Of course, not everyone does that in college. And that’s okay too. Dr. King didn’t go out hoping to find a dream. He was following his passion and someone pointed out to him that it was a dream.

In the same scene that I spoke of earlier, with Alice and the Cheshire Cat, Alice explains that she doesn’t care where she goes “'so long as [she gets] SOMEWHERE.'” The Cat responds saying, “'Oh, you're sure to do that…if you only walk long enough.'"

In college you learned about yourself just by trying new things. This will be true throughout your whole life. If you keep seeking out new and interesting experiences, you’ll get somewhere.

Regardless of if you plan to be a teacher, a nurse, a performer, an accountant, a police officer, a manager, a counselor, a banker, or something else….whether you have a dream yet or not isn’t important.

What’s important is that you recognize the accomplishment you’ve earned today and that you are proud of yourself for all of your hard work.

What’s important is that you look into the stands and realize there are people up there who care about you.

What’s important is that you take risks, put your heart on the line, and stay open to new adventures.

What’s important is that you take the time to thank the people who stick with you through the good and the bad.

What’s important is that you surround yourself these next few years with people who will support your passions and celebrate with you when they’ve turned into dreams.

As a business major, I’d like to close by quoting the great management scholar, William Shakespeare. To quote the Bard, “Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.” Thank you. Congratulations. And best of luck to you all!

Zach Herzog

1 comment (Add your own)

1. Linda Berner wrote:
Well said, Zach!! With God by your side, you will go far!!!

Thu, April 30, 2015 @ 11:12 PM

Add a New Comment


Comment Guidelines: No HTML is allowed. Off-topic or inappropriate comments will be edited or deleted. Thanks.