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Get inspired by journalists’ graduation speeches

Amid the journalism industry’s doom-and-gloom, it’s hard to remember sometimes that there are thousands of young journalists ambling to enter this profession each year even if many young journalism students bail for a different profession even before graduation or soon after. So, what better way to inspire them — and other new graduates — to fight the good fight than with a inspiring speech from a stellar journalist?

Several of my journalistic idols delivered speeches this year, and others I don’t follow also imparted very wise words on the class of 2012. The beauty of technology is I can catch up on all of them and watch most of them on video. With graduations coming and going this month, Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon did a great job rounding up some of the commencement speeches from journalists this year. I won’t try and repeat it, so visit their list.

While some of the speeches have been gloomy, here are three of the speeches that spoke to me:

  1. David Simon, a former crime reporter who among other accomplishments created “The Wire”, delivered the speech at Georgetown University. After crediting Woody Allen for writing the best commencement speech ever (not ever given, as it was a newspaper column), he goes on to add his own life’s wisdom and realizations. Then, he urged them to do what his generation failed to:
    There cannot be two American experiments, one for the fortunate and another for the rest. All of us must share the same future – like it or not. For the republic to long endure, there must be a real American collective and all of us must have some stake in that collective. For you, emerging now from this university, the question is what you will stand for, what you will assert for. Your America, as viable and verdant as this beautiful campus? Or the other America, the one that got left behind … To a certain extent, we all must begin by being for ourselves. But if we are only for ourselves, or only for our families, or our friends, or our own class or interests – if empathy never reaches beyond our own backyard – then who the hell are we, really?

  2. Barbara Walters delivered a speech at Yale urging students to “follow your bliss” (if you’re lucky enough at this age to know what it is, but it’s OK if it takes you some time to figure it out). I also love that she included anecdotes of doing just that from other famous individuals she’s interviewed.
  3. Pulitzer-prize winning columnist Connie Schultz and her husband Sen. Sherrod Brown delivered a speech to Hiram College in Ohio. One of my favorite lines from Schultz dealt with the advice her mother gave her about Brown: “Honey, don’t marry him until you see how he treats the waitress.” If you follow Schultz (as a Ohio grad and alum of the same university, I do), you’ll understand how telling and characteristic that advice to be kind is. But it boils down to this: “How we treat the people we’re allowed to mistreat is the measure of our lives.”

Each of these spoke to similar purposes and yet different points. But here’s my combined summary from the three: If you can figure out not just what makes you happy but how to take that path and use your talents to make another person’s life easier, and that chain continues, then your life, this country and the world will be a better place.

YOUR TURN: What’s your favorite all-time graduation speech this year, or ever? Share a link!

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