Social Update: Graduation Speakers - Many Faces, One Message

Linda Goodhue Photography

Linda Goodhue Photography

Caps and gowns are put on as the slow walk to the ceremony begins. There have been pictures, cards received, and final goodbyes and ‘good lucks’ said before the dream of graduation walking, but eventually, it does come.

Every year, thousands upon thousands of students graduate from their respective schools - all of which step into the real world that they have been cautiously avoiding for four years, partying and studying their lives away.

The graduation itself is usually a spectacle, albeit a monotonous one at times, as speaker after speaker graces the stage, giving the most empowering or impactful motivation within their power. Each of them hope to leave a lasting impression on at least a handful of graduating students, knowing that if just a few are changed for the better, then the speech was something worth doing.

Every year, colleges pick a different keynote speaker for the commencement of that particular year’s class. These speakers range from incredibly well known people, such as former-presidents, high-up CEOs, and famous actors, to the relatively obscure. The commonality is that each of them tries to convey their thoughts to the crowd in front of them in a new, fresh way that could somehow leave an impression.

These speeches’ content can hypothetically be anything, from Will Ferrell ending his 2017 commencement speech by singing a song, but not before reminding the graduates that even someone like him as been through hard, tenuous times. "Yeah, I moved back home for a solid two years, I might add," Ferrell said in his speech. He also harped on the idea that even with all the success someone like him as had, that he still fears failure.

The unfortunate truth to the sentiment that Ferrell was trying to promote - one of accepting and learning from failure, is very prominent in today’s society. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those age 20-24’s unemployment rate is nearly double that of those age 25-34. These graduates, Ferrell, and other keynote speakers know that the outlook for graduates success in the future is different than those of their parents and their parents before them. With the country still recovering from the recession and the continual advancements in technology and automation, jobs and higher pay is becoming increasingly more difficult to find.

Yet, these keynote speakers continue on, knowing that their speech may be seen as the most important of the night - therefore the one that could possibly do the most for the graduates in front of them. While Ferrell obviously brings a superstar status to the USC commencement, other speakers around the country with completely different backgrounds have been able to leave a lasting impression, regardless of their popularity.

In 2016, Kent Alterman, the president of Comedy Central, spoke at the University of Oregon. However, the year before, a man named Peter Hollens spoke at commencement speech in Eugene, Oregon. Hollens, famous for his performance on NBC’s “The Sing Off” before becoming popular on YouTube, shows the various calibers of keynote speakers that are able to deliver a speech worth hearing. Hollens spoke about the bullying he experienced as a child and other, later in life knowledge, such as marriage and how new experiences can change lives.

As these keynote speakers urge their listeners to continue striving for greatness out in the world, the outlook after college continues to change as higher expectations are laid upon recent graduates. More and more, workers are expected to have gone to graduate school, just as our parents were expected to have gone to college. This shift in the amount of knowledge needed to find a job that has a livable salary has created a new time of stress and worry for college students.

It seems every generation that comes through believes that their time in the light is much harder and more taxing than the generation before them. Each generation experiences new advancements in technology; from the industrial revolution to the increased use of machinery and robots for manufacturing, graduating students are at all times having to adapt and learn new skills in order to survive.

Advancements like increased social media usage - a more connected world through platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have forced students to continually learn new apps and additions to the media landscape. Increased competition in high-paying fields like science, medicine and engineering have caused students to spend more and more time at school, refining their skills and specifying them so that they can stand out from the thousands of other equally desperate job seekers.

As this growth and progress continues on for society, keynote speakers will continue to walk to the podium, looking out at the smiling, nervous faces of various colors and sashes in front of them, and give unique pieces of advice. Often times, the euphemisms that speakers use are cliché, but only because they can also originate from people who have had extreme success. This commonality between all speakers shows the students that they too can make it from college graduate to successful workplace contributor - a valuable piece of encouragement. The fight for jobs is a tough one, and those entering the fray just now now out of college face a much higher unemployment rate than those before them. The hope is that some of them may remember, for example, Will Ferrell, as he sang out to the USC graduates, before remembering his - and all of the keynote speakers' message: a determination towards the future.