Not much pomp, just some advice circumstance

Candace Cooksey

I may be the ultimate graduation speech junkie. That’s a good thing, considering.

As a reporter I’ve covered my fair share of graduations; as a mother/grandmother I’ve attended (u-m-m-m-m) I’d say more than my fair share of commencement exercises for kindergartners, middle-school students, high school graduates and (even) two college graduation ceremonies; and, as a diploma recipient myself, I’ve participated in three graduations – junior high, high school and college – that come to mind now.

In fact, one of the first graduation speech quotes of my collection I gleaned from the speech given at our Angelo State University commencement in May, 1974. Bill Moyers, long-time PBS commentator, related to us the pressure he felt to say something we would remember. He wondered what others might have said, when the onus was on them to say something important and inspiring. He considered George Washington, who has a general in the Revolutionary War was leading troops of nearly frozen, half-starved, wounded and discouraged patriots across the Potomac.

Washington probably didn’t go for the drama, Moyers guessed. He probably didn’t flower it up at all. He probably said, “Let’s get in the boat.”

And that’s what those patriot men did, Moyers suggested, because it was the right thing for them to do.

My second memorable nugget is from a graduation exercise I attended years ago at the University of South Florida, in Tampa. I don’t remember the speaker’s name, but I remember the conclusion to his speech.

The best advice he could give, or had ever gotten, he said, he’d found on the lid of a mayonnaise jar.

“Keep cool. Do not freeze.”

My new favorite bit of graduation advice is one of 10 lessons Adm. Bill McRaven, a 36-year U.S. Navy SEAL and head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, shared with this year’s University of Texas graduates.

If you want to change the world, McRaven said, “Start off by making your bed.

“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another,” McRaven said.

My mama always said the same thing. She was right, but I often forgot or didn’t think bedmaking was all that necessary. Now, with such a hearty endorsement from a Navy admiral, I’ve corrected my bad habit. It works, by the way. It really and truly works.

Another graduating class of 2014 got a couple of “real truths” from a major star. Sandra Bullock advised the New Orleans Warren Easton Charter School graduates not to pick their noses in public, and to hug with both arms.

Along those same lines, is this quote I grabbed from a You-Tube video featuring George Saunders advice to the Syracuse, 2013 graduates.

“Err in the direction of kindness,” Saunders said.

Hear. Hear.

I also like what Steve Blank told graduates at Philadelphia University in 2011.

“I’m living proof that the ‘lucky breaks’ theory is simply wrong,” Blank said. “You get to make your own luck. ... The world is run by those who show up ... not those who wait to be asked.”

Jeff Bezos explained the difference between gifts and choices to Princeton’s 2010 graduating class. “Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice,” he said. “Gifts are easy – they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.”

And would any collection of wise quotes be complete without something ironically true from the late entrepreneur Steve Jobs?

“But someday, not too long from now,” Jobs told Stanford University class of 2005, “you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it's quite true. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else’s life.”

And with that sobering thought, I shall conclude with a sort of toast. Well, at least it’s a cocktail. Thank you, Chef José Andrés.

Andrés gave George Washington University this recipe: “Get a cocktail shaker, if you are over 21,” he said. “Add your heart, your soul, your brain, your instinct and shake it hard. Serve it straight up.

“But let me give you a secret ingredient,” Andrés finished. “Add a dash of the criticism on top. Because those naysayers play an important role too.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Candace Cooksey Fulton is a freelance writer, formerly of Brownwood, living now in San Angelo. She can be reached at