I have been invited to give a graduation speech this spring. Trying to find a message relevant to the graduates of 2015 is a challenge.
Study hard, because success in life is based on what you know might be an appropriate theme, though not necessarily true.
Choose your friends wisely because success is based on who you know is more pragmatic, but far less inspirational.
Perhaps I will tell them then what I believe to be true – what really counts is who you are and the kind of person you choose to become.
I have some anecdotal evidence based on personal experience and more empirical evidence rooted in research. Daniel Goldman, for example, tells us in his theory on emotional intelligence that our EQ may be more important in determining our success than our IQ. At the risk of over simplifying his work, EQ is the measure of our skill at recognizing and controlling our own emotions, our capacity for empathy for others and our ability to delay gratification. All skills that may sound unfamiliar to the class of 2015 with their emoticons and virtual relationships, their Snapchat selfies and the immediate satisfaction they garner by instant messaging, on-line gaming and same-day delivery.
Kristen van Ogtrop in an essay for Time Magazine, “Life’s Common Core” provides additional support by suggesting something similar and acknowledging that much of what students really need to learn won’t get them in to college, but will make them better people.
Instead of “racing to the top” van Ogtrop recommends aiming for the top and getting there “without knocking everyone else out of the way”.
She recommends that to do that students need to learn to write real letters, cook for themselves, stick with an unpleasant task, share more, take care of someone else and read a book for pleasure among other things. When I think about the skills and experiences that make me who I am I could add to her list of suggestions. Very little of what makes us who we are is covered by the common core or found among the lists of 21st century skills, obtained by spending hours in class or demonstrated on standardized tests!
My emotional quotient and who I am is the product of childhood and young adult experiences in which I learned to get along with others by playing with other kids; participating in clubs and organizations, many of which were outside of school; witnessing my parents and other adults I respected work hard, solve problems and make sacrifices, and by figuring out for myself who I wanted to be and the role I wanted to play in the world.
I made it through this week without applying higher level math skills, the advanced principles of science, referencing classic literature or reflecting on the course of history. What really got me through was my ability to manage my own emotions, recognize and respect the feelings of others, and persist in doing what needed to be done before doing what I actually wanted to do.
Success for the class of 2015 may not be determined any differently than it has been in the past. Life will always require a level of competency and having the competencies are important, but the quality of life will always be measured by hard work, integrity, and the responsibility and respect we have for and earn from others. These are skills that can’t be taught separately from the experiences that help us develop them.
While what you know and who you know will always factor into success, what will matter most is who you are and the person you choose to be. Good luck class of 2015!