« WSAU Opinion Blog

OPINION - To The Class of 2013

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) – Each year I deliver a graduation speech, although I’ve never been invited to be a commencement speaker, and probably never will. I’ve always enjoyed writing it. My ‘Speech To The Graduates’ is one of my most-read blogs of the year.

To The Class of 2013. Congratulations! Earning a diploma is a remarkable accomplishment. You all have much to be proud of.

When I look at Washington and our current political situation, I see gridlock and dysfunction. Forget about assigning blame. That’s for another day. And we can also set aside whether divided government and an imperfect status-quo is good or bad. Some are happy that an ever-expanding government is stymied for the time being. Others are frustrated that government can’t “do” as many things as they’d like. That situation won’t change this year. It probably won’t change after the mid-term elections in 2014 either.

Yet, I think we all want to do something. After all, knowledge is intended to be shared. Of course you will primarily use your education to further yourself… your career… your economic outlook… your family. But even that narrow view benefits others. If you go to work, your company, its customers, their customers, all benefit from your work and your skills. You’re sharing your gifts. And there’s no shame in getting paid for it and earning a living.

But I want to do more. Many of you do to.

Mahatma Gandhi told us:  'You must be the change you wish to see in the world." Not quite. His words were changed slights - probably to fit onto a bumper sticker. Here's what he actually said, "If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature,so does the attitude of the world change towards him... we need not wait to see what others do."  

And remember, change is unlikely to come from government. And even if that’s where change does come from, there’s only a 50-50 chance it’ll be the change you want to see. Do not lull yourself into thinking that someone else… the government, your neighbor, your parents, the person sitting next to you… will do anything. You do it. And the world will change towards you. Someone else will benefit. Others will see what it happening. Some will join in. Another will ‘pay it forward’. Someone will think about what you were doing, a seed will be planted in their hearts, and some time in the future they will do something because they saw you, ordinary you, do something that involved a giving of a part of yourself.

This needs to be a bipartisan activity. If you are liberal, surely you’ve noticed that government alone can’t do everything. You are needed. If you’re conservative, surely you’ve noticed that government steps in where individuals don’t.

What I am asking is for you to be charitable. That’s different than giving to charity, which, by the way you should do. It’s also different than volunteering. Be charitable with your time – be it for a cause, a group, a special project, or even your family. How you use your time is a better measure of you as a person than money. We all have exactly the same amount of time – 24 hours each day – and we get to determine what we “spend” it on. Do you have small amounts of it to change things?

Being charitable with your money and your time leads to something else: a charitable spirit. Your point-of-view or your politics may not change. But you will see people and situations that need what you have to offer. You will be changed by it. You will look at problems in a different way. It will lead you to new ideas, new approaches, and, perhaps new solutions.

If you are going off to college, you will have many opportunities to be charitable. There are dozens of groups on every campus that work on community projects. Please, seek them out and get involved with one or two of them. Those are experiences that are unique to college; you’re missing out if you don’t take part. If you are staying here in Central Wisconsin to begin your working life, you already know what’s good and what needs improving about our community. Find the one thing that bothers you the most, and try changing it. I think you’ll find that even small steps bring rewards that are bigger than you’d imagine. If you are leaving here to join the military, you have a special responsibility. Americans are the most generous people in the world; America is known throughout the world for its military might. Do your part that they are not contradictions.

Graduation Day is about you. And it should be. Be proud. Celebrate your achievements. But, in time, turn your eyes to the world around you. We all see the world in different ways. And that’s a good thing. What catches your eye? What needs to be done? Do it. Apply your mind – you education – to it, and we’ll all be better for it.

Chris Conley


Here are some past graduation speech blogs:

2010:  http://tinyurl.com/q54encc
2011:  http://tinyurl.com/nlnkr77
2012: http://tinyurl.com/po75fz2