Dear Commencement Speakers: A Mother’s Plea

Dear Commencement Speakers: A Mother’s Plea May 27, 2018

This past weekend, I attended a graduation ceremony at a Catholic university. The commencement speaker began her talk by noting that few adults can recall the speaker (or message) from their own college graduation ceremony. Following her address, I prayed that those in attendance would quickly forget her speech.


Don’t get me wrong. The talk wasn’t vulgar or crude. Rather, it was a self-aggrandizing speech focused on her own professional and financial successes. Her main message to students: You, too, can achieve professional and financial success if you trust yourself and rely upon your own judgement.

Rely on Yourself – Is that Really the Best Message?

At her final word, I was relieved she was finished. Then, I thought to myself, “What a missed opportunity! What a disappointment.”

It’s true that few people remember commencement speakers or their messages. However, the commencement address is still an opportunity to reinforce ideals that, hopefully, have been taught throughout the years of the young adult’s life.

Making it big in business because of her own professional prowess (while offering a few political digs directed at the current administration) was the message of this talk.

Making it Big in Business – Is that Really the Best Message?

As she boasted about hob-knobbing with the rich and famous of Silicon Valley, I lamented over what was missing from her presentation. As a mother, I send out a plea to other speakers – a plea to consider a different message. These are the three things I had hoped that my graduate would have heard:


We truly have so much for which to be thankful. Above all we are to give thanks to God. In addition, how wonderful it would have been had this speaker acknowledged her parents, her grandparents, siblings, teachers, professors, mentors, and friends who helped, guided, and encouraged her along the way. Surely there are such people in her life. It’s a shame she did not acknowledge them – or thank them. My hope and prayer is that my children will.

I hope that this next generation will both recognize and appreciate all of the people in their lives who care, who help, who sacrifice, who encourage, and who believe in them. Grateful people tend to be happier people. Say “thank you!” This is a message worth repeating to our young people (and to ourselves) over and over again.


A second point I had hoped that the speaker would have mentioned is the value of serving others. Our world today is extremely self-focused. It was Alexis de Tocqueville in his 19th century book on democracy in America who observed that “each [American] citizen is habitually engaged in the contemplation of a very puny object, namely himself.”

We all need to be reminded to get outside of ourselves and help those around us. We need to look for ways of volunteering to improve the common good. Once we stop taking selfies and actually look and listen around us, we notice many ways that we can be of service. And, the irony of serving is that the volunteer typically ends up receiving the most in the end.

Faith and Family

Finally, I lamented the fact that the speaker neglected to say a single word about the importance of faith and family. In life, we need both. In addition, we need to invest time and energy into growing our faith and strengthening family relationships. Trying to live life by relying “on your own judgment” is setting oneself up for tremendous disappointment.

Our faith and our families have much wisdom to share. It is foolish not to tap into this love and wisdom. When fortunes rise and blessings abound, it can be easy to think that one can do it alone. However, when uncertainty, trouble, and suffering ensue (and they most certainly will), it is faith and family that will see us through.

Without question, faith and family are the firm foundation of any society. Today, our culture is at work to weaken this foundation. Sadly, our young adults won’t hear about the importance of faith and family from the secular news. Therefore, we need to be intentional about heralding this message.

A Mother’s Plea

Dear commencement speakers: Please leave out the political jabs, messages about making big bucks, and the idea that we need to look out for “Number 1” from your commencement speeches.

Like so many parents, I have tried to instill different messages: be grateful, serve others, and invest in your faith and family. At times it feels like an uphill battle as the world tends to mock these ideals, or disregard them altogether. What a blessing it would be if commencement speakers would reinforce these important messages! Gratitude, service, faith, and family are messages we all need to hear – not just at graduation – but over and over again.


Pamela Patnode will be speaking at the MN Catholic Home Education Conference at the University of St. Paul, MN

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