An unusual commencement speech (Part 1)
BUSINESS MATTERS BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE - Francis J. Kong (The Philippine Star) - March 23, 2019 - 12:00am

Now that commencement exercises are happening, I thought perhaps this is the best time to talk about this and feature an excellent speech.

Truth is, I have never been comfortable with commencement speeches delivered by famous TV talk show hosts or celebrities. “Believe in yourself!” “Fight for your rights!”

“You can do anything you want to do if you put your heart into it.” Or “You can be anybody you want to be if you work hard for it.” And then all the young minds seated out there would cheer, applaud absorb every word of it and treat them as gospel truth. Then, they enter the real world of work and toil only to be dismayed, depressed and disgruntled because all that they “believed in” is not happening.

Some members of the academe are also guilty. Professors wanting to get the admiration of the students would promise them that the moment they get out of school and because they have gone through the college course, they are teaching them to have a starting salary of P30,000 and up. Much to their dismay, these graduates hungry for a job would refuse openings because the starting salary at minimum does not meet their expectations.

What a refreshing turn this time to have US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts as he delivered the commencement address at his son’s ninth-grade graduation at Cardigan Mountain School, offering advice that ran counter to many common commencement speeches. I will present a sizeable part of his speech after the initial pleasantries have been made. This will come in two parts. Part 2 would be for tomorrow so do not miss it. You can read the entire speech by going to the “Time” website (

Read it and reflect on it. Perhaps his speech would have a significant impact on the way we raise our kids and the way they should be educated. Here is Part 1:

“Now, the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

Now commencement speakers are also expected to give some advice. They give grand advice, and they give some useful tips. The most common grand advice they give is for you to be yourself. It is an odd piece of advice to give people dressed identically, but you should — you should be yourself. But you should understand what that means. Unless you are perfect, it does not mean don’t make any changes. In a certain sense, you should not be yourself. You should try to become something better. People say ‘be yourself’ because they want you to resist the impulse to conform to what others want you to be. But you can’t be yourself if you don’t learn who you are, and you can’t learn who you are unless you think about it.

The Greek philosopher Socrates said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ And while ‘just do it’ might be a good motto for some things, it’s not a good motto when it’s trying to figure out how to live your life that is before you. And one important clue to living a good life is to not to try to live the good life. The best way to lose the values that are central to who you are is frankly not to think about them at all.

So that’s the deep advice. Now some tips as you get ready to go to your new school. Other the last couple of years, I have gotten to know many of you young men pretty well, and I know you are good guys. But you are also privileged young men. And if you weren’t privileged when you came here, you are privileged now because you have been here. My advice is: Don’t act like it.

When you get to your new school, walk up and introduce yourself to the person who is raking the leaves, shoveling the snow or emptying the trash. Learn their name and call them by their name during your time at the school. Another piece of advice: When you pass by people you don’t recognize on the walks, smile, look them in the eye and say hello. The worst thing that will happen is that you will become known as the young man who smiles and says hello, and that is not a bad thing to start with.

You’ve been at a school with just boys. Most of you will be going to a school with girls. I have no advice for you.”

And so we end here. I will give you Part 2 tomorrow.

(Attend the two exciting and inspiring days of leadership training with Francis Kong in his highly acclaimed Level Up Leadership seminar-workshop this April 2-3 at the Makati Diamond Residences across Greenbelt 1. For registration or inquiries contact April at +63928-559-1798 or register online at

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