What a blast to rally new graduates as the commencement speaker for Florida Gulf Coast University on Dec. 12!
I was honored to be invited by President Wilson Bradshaw, and immediately began pondering how to avoid being dull and forgettable.
I have my personal story, which continues to resonate with its universal message of hope and perseverance and promise. This was a wonderful opportunity to pay tribute to Dad, who passed away a year ago, and to Mom.
But I wanted to do more, to make the moment memorable–all in 10 minutes or so.
What do new graduates want to hear? Something short that hits home.
Who is the ceremony and speech for, really? The families and loved ones.
What would the students say if they could? What would you like them to say? What do they need to hear?
I ended up with a bold concept: a graduate’s anthem that the students would voice with me. They would become part of the speech, talking to each other and to their loves ones. As far as I could find via the internet, this would be a first.
My family was skeptical, to say the least. What if they don’t participate? What if they become disruptive?
As typical with my intuitive ideas, I was undaunted. Though I was prepared to ad lib in case the anthem–trimmed to a tight two minutes–bombed.
I was pleased with the engagement, especially with those I could make eye contact with, and gratified by the enthusiastic feedback. “I’ve never heard anything like this before but now I think every commencement speech should be interactive,” one instructor said. “You moved me,” said another speaker. “Awesome,” said new grad Sparkle Simmons via Facebook.
A young lady crossing the stage to receive her diploma after my speech surprised us all by detouring to give me a hug. No words were exchanged but the tears in her eyes said volumes.
And I was so touched by a post from talented News-Press photographer Kinfay Moroti who covered the event:
From the moment I met Mei-Mei Chan several years ago, I knew if I truly listened to her, I would grow as a journalist and person… I have.
Today, I listened again, as she spoke at FGCU’s graduation.
She told of her family’s journey and her father’s love. Then, as only she can, she brought the graduates to their feet and challenged them to grow… they did.
Mei-Mei… You inspire me more than you can ever know.
Here’s my graduate’s anthem. Or check out the full 10-minute commencement speech (which starts at the 45 minute mark).
I (state your name), sing out proudly as a 2015 graduate of FGCU, 850 strong.
I know I stand on a lot of shoulders.
So, I say to the staff and faculty of FGCU: You all had something to share, and the best of you made me think, and made me care.
To my colleagues: We became men and women here and our bonds will be like no other. Leaving this haven, my goal is to lift you up as you fly toward the sun, caution you so you don’t get burned, catch you when you fall. And we will fall. And we will get back up.
To my loved ones here and in my heart: For all the times you made me crazy, and for all the times I was such a pain, I hope on this day, you are proud of me—as I am proud of you. Because we got here together, you and I.
My goal to you is that I will cherish and fulfill this gift. I will be purposeful each day, and give to each challenge and opportunity the same passion and obsession, curiosity and creativity, intensity and respect, as I do to my smartphone. But in complete sentences. Face to face. I mean it.
You always said I was “special.” And usually meant it as praise. It’s true: I am unique in the universe.
My goal to myself is to shape the future in my own way.
I will find what moves me and what’s worthwhile, knowing they may not be the same thing; and I will stand out with my distinctive skills, accepting that might take more than a month, or a year, or a decade.
I will listen and learn and read newspapers, take risks and make mistakes. I will follow my heart, soaring to my own unique music.
Because I can make a difference like no one else can.
This is my anthem. So, look out world, here I come.