Our Media Studies students graduated today. I was honoured to deliver a motivational speech for them. As several students approached me afterwards asking to share the speech, I am posting it here for good memories.
"Dear graduating class, dear friends, families, faculty and guests. What an honour it is to stand here this morning and address you all. These moments are what we wake up for as academics. Thank you for this opportunity!
A thick chapter in your life book is coming to a close. As such moments normally do, they bring a mix of emotions – excitement and nostalgia. Indeed, this is a moment to look back, reflect, and celebrate. Yet, it is also a moment to look into the future.
Let’s start with the reflection:
You started your university studies, met new people, some of you had to move here from another country or another city or village for that. Maybe Groningen in your hometown; whatever the situation is, your life suddenly transformed. It must have felt like a movie, and just like in the movies, the good times had to be followed by a major challenge. The whole planet went on a lockdown. All of you and all of us had to adapt to the new realities and new approaches. I am tempted to say a cliché a-la “They can’t teach you that at school” – but apparently, they can. You have come out of this experience stronger and far better prepared for the ever-changing circumstances. I often hear people say that we live in extraordinary and unpredictable times. Truth be told, times are never simple or predictable. Perhaps if we view them through a more realistic lens, then we can be better equipped to overcome the challenges we face.
So, with the set of new skills, hard and soft, transferable and not so-transferable, you completed a bachelor’s degree in media studies. Media studies is a hard field to define. Perhaps you have experienced this when having to explain what your major is to family members at dinner parties. I am scanning the group. We are at the crossroads of disciplines - we study algorithms, politics, journalism, advertisement, intercultural communication, sociology, and even psychology. I congratulate you on mastering these diverse skills. You are in a strong position for new beginnings. But I must confess to you, it is not going to be easy. I do not want to sugarcoat things. That’s not appreciated in the Netherlands in any case. When I was a graduating student with a BA in Political Science in 2009 in the United States, everyone told me of the great things ahead. I graduated into the recession, there were no jobs. Even barista jobs required ten years of experience. I felt betrayed. However, good times do come. After all, I got my dream job and I am standing in front of you now. The good times are not instant. The good times are not constant. But they do exist.
As you continue your journey and start new chapters, I wish upon you to be excited about the future. During my time as a PhD candidate, I got to work with Professor Etienne Auge, who specializes in future studies. What Dr Auge emphasized in his discourse was that he wants people to be excited about the future no matter how difficult that might be at times. I share this sentiment. I mean look at us now. It is hard to put up with the present at times, as a result, the future becomes even more terrifying. Yet without this banal optimism, everything loses its meaning.
Now, a graduation speech needs to contain some guiding words. So here are some recipes for life. Don’t worry, it won’t take long, I prepared only about a hundred or so.
Number one, collaborate
If we take the average age in this room…Well, if we count the teachers and the parents, then it is 18. Wink, wink. Multiply 18 by the number of people here and you get centuries of collective experience. Build upon this wealth of knowledge. Reach out to others and collaborate, magic will happen.
Number two, connect with people who are different from you
I was once young and went on an exchange year in high school to the United States. On my very first day of school, at lunch time I stood there with my tray of food in the middle of a building in which I did not know a single soul. Everything around me was new, alien and different. My English was even worse than it is now. Every table had kids who shared interests. These were little social enclaves. I did not know what to do. I did not know where I belonged. So, I sat there on the staircase and ate alone. It did not feel good. I felt like I was rejected by the universe. The next day I decided to change things and just sat down at the very first table I saw. I started talking to people I did not know. The day after that I felt empowered and sat at yet another table. I liked it and got into the rush. By the end of the exchange year, I made friends with the entire school. What I noticed in this experience was that I became friends with people who were not friends with each other. If I were to invite them all to a party, there would probably be a major cultural clash at first. My advantage, however, was that I did not have that constructed burden in my head that would restrict me from connecting with others. So, sometimes it is good to depart from the drawbacks of our predispositions and our cultural codes. Suddenly such incredible new horizons begin to open up.
Number three, pursue your true passion
There is no time or justification to be miserable because you are doing something you are not passionate about. Of course, easier said than done. We all need to make money. But if you are not doing what you love, that money will be spent on emotional compensation. Don’t listen to others in this case. Sorry parents. Listen only to yourself and pursue your dreams. And they may change. That’s fine too. Life is not static; your dreams change along with you.
Number four, you are good enough
We are conditioned to think that everything is measured by achievement. We go on social media where we are “happy to announce, delighted to share, and thrilled to inform everyone” about yet another milestone in our lives. And rightly so. Don’t get me wrong, you should share away the good news of your graduation today. But don’t fall into the trap where you feel like you have to constantly impress someone to feel worthy. You are good enough.
Number five, do care about others
When I became an academic, I sat down with my wife Natasha in the evening before my first class. I told her, I was nervous about tomorrow. I get to be a teacher now, after all these years of being a student. I asked, can we reflect a bit about what type of teachers we liked the most during our time as students? Who do we remember most positively? After some flashbacks, positive and terrifying, we came to the conclusion that those teachers whom we remember as good teachers shared the same trait…They exuded genuine care for the students. They cared. That discussion made such an impact on me. It became a kind of a code for action. And this care can be applied anywhere. In your daily routine, in the workplace, as hard as it is to do – on public transport. We are highly social beings. Exuding care for others is a highly rewarding thing.
Now, as I teacher I have to sum things up and repeat them.
Connect with people who are different from you
Pursue your true passion
Remember that you are good enough
Exude some care
Congratulations once again. Good luck out there, don’t be strangers and enjoy the ride.
The future is yours."