Henry Taylor/The Leaf-Chronicle

There are some special occasions, like graduation day, that require us to focus on a single individual with a hearty “hooray!” Given coverage in the press and social media, we’re all aware of the wonderful commencement addresses that are being delivered by celebrities, scholars, writers, politicians, scientists, and CEO’s. These speakers have been in the public eye for various reasons and their lives reflect great success in diverse endeavors, industries, and fields. Not surprisingly, they have interesting personal narratives to share. Commencement speakers have often overcome adversity, making them inspiring role models, with wisdom about life in general to pass on to graduates and families.

You won’t likely be able to hear the commencement speeches in person, but examples are easily found online. A review of 2018’s commencement speakers led to great advice: Tell the truth; Trust your inner voice; Don’t seek success for its own sake; Listen more than you speak; Become engaged in public service as a way of being in service to life.

A new batch of 2019 commencement speakers shared their wisdom gained from life experience, suggesting ways to be productive, creative, and find meaning. Google highlighted the most quotable moments (click here to learn more). And Time magazine shared a list of wonderful speeches for everyone to enjoy. Here are a few examples from 2019 speakers: Forge your own path; Steer your ship into the choppy waters; What each of you have is your inherent uniqueness; Own all of your life experiences; We are all broken in some way and …Who says you have to be good all the time?

There are two ways to acknowledge the graduate’s success. First, there is the spoken toast and second, the handwritten note.

The Spoken Toast: We won’t all make Time magazine or appear on YouTube, but there may be a chance for you to deliver a toast at a family gathering or a party for a new graduate. Why shoot from the hip and be casual when you have the opportunity to bring people together and recognize the significance of the day? Don’t pass up the chance to express your feelings and recollections in a memorable way that makes everyone feel good. You should focus on what should be said best out loud and in a group setting:

  1. Acknowledge the parent or parents, siblings, teachers, coach, or (in the case of the older student, the spouse) who have helped the graduate become his or her best self.
  2. Mention a particular accomplishment, such as an award, completed thesis, or valuable internship.
  3. Share a happy memory of something you did or experienced together.
  4. Reference an example of the graduate’s good character like their discipline or their moral center.

There is the obligatory “Raise your glass to the graduate…” moment. And remember, a toast is NOT a roast!

A Written Note: Unlike the toast, the written note can become a keepsake if you can capture the moment’s significance. Beyond the obvious “Congratulations”, why not acknowledge a virtue of theirs that you’ve noticed over time, like the way they overcame adversity? You might acknowledge a particular talent or mention their intrinsic goodness. For instance, some people, even children or teens, have a way of making other people smile, are helpful at large holiday dinners, or are willing to talk to the elderly relative sitting by themselves in the corner.

Be creative! An artist friend of the family can produce a customized card to include a sketch of the graduate doing something, like being up to bat or hiking a trail. A poet can write a poem, either silly or serious. Enclosing two tickets to an event like a rock concert or tickets to a game featuring his or her favorite team will always be appreciated.

There are many, many wonderful tips and tools to help you express yourself available online. When it comes to a person’s graduation, tweeting is for the birds. Humans have a far bigger vocabulary (and intellectual capacity) than 280 characters will allow. Seize a moment that acknowledges a major achievement for the graduate and hold it up to the light. Stave off the tendency to just show up for the occasion; rather, ensure that the new graduate is the focus of attention. In a virtual world, expressing yourself in a personal and emotional way face-to-face is rare. Aside from the moment the graduate turns the tassel, your toast or note can be the second most memorable moment in a graduate’s day.


  1. A. Ferguson0 says:

    Thanks Lois. I just had to repost this Graduation & Father’s Day gift idea!

    1. a belated thank you for reading my posts and keeping our connection going, Anita! Life goes on, and you’ve turned your life around from a dark moment and existential crisis, an inspiration to me (and many others). Onward! I bet your dad appreciated the spirited daughter he had in you. Did he play favorites? Hmmmm….. xoxo

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