Words of wisdom for the Class of 2013

From a courageous political figure to the CEO of Twitter, these five commencement speakers offered inspiring thoughts to the communicators of tomorrow.

“Students, parents, honored guests…”

Many of us have heard that salutation while sitting at commencement ceremonies. What usually follows are words of encouragement, empathy, and wisdom as the new graduates prepare to embark on their chosen career paths.

This year was no exception.

Many U.S. colleges featured high-profile recipients of honorary degrees to deliver keynotes to audiences filled with fresh-faced graduates. Here is PR Daily‘s selection of some of those pearls of wisdom meant to inspire members of the Class of 2013 who are pursuing a career in marketing, PR, or social media.

1. “It is through stories that we understand ourselves and each other.”
—Kerry Washington, actor, at George Washington University

The actress who plays Olivia Pope on “Scandal” would agree: Storytelling is still one of the best ways to engage your audience. Never underestimate the power of compelling content to create understanding of your brand or organization. Do your homework, research the demographics of your audience, and identify the emotional triggers that would motivate their participation.

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2. “Every generation must define itself. If you must find your own path, and we have left you no easy path, then decide now to choose the hard path that leads to the life and the world that you want.”—Stephen Colbert, author and TV host, at the University of Virginia

Though much of his address was vintage Colbert, that one serious line resonates for new graduates. A generation often derided as “entitled,” the Class of 2013 is entering an industry in which innovation is moving at the speed of light. As some of the most tech-savvy early adopters of new media, these graduates are perfectly positioned to create inroads in this continually growing industry.

3. “Deep human connection is very different…it’s the purpose of a meaningful life; it will inspire the most amazing acts of love, generosity, and humanity.” —Melinda Gates, philanthropist, at Duke University

Known for her philanthropic zeal to help improve the lives of people the world over, Melinda Gates’ words are important to a generation accustomed to communicating in 140 words or fewer. Stressing the importance of human connection—the foundation of relationship building—is a vital lesson for this cohort. Texting is one thing; creating face-to-face opportunities opens the door to so many possibilities.

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4. “Be bold; be courageous; be your best.”—Gabrielle Giffords, former U.S. congresswoman, at Bard College

Who better to extol the virtue of courage than Gabrielle Giffords? In a short, poignant address to Bard College graduates, she highlighted the importance of “boldness.” For graduates starting full-time employment, the ability to make their mark quickly will set them apart from those still sitting quietly after the first six weeks. It could be championing a new idea or asking to be part of a senior colleague’s team. Risk-takers get noticed.

5. “You can’t plan a script. BE in THIS moment.”—Dick Costolo, Twitter CEO, at the University of Michigan

Being “in the moment” is probably second nature to the CEO of Twitter. But think of the creative brand teams that were nimble enough to seize the moment: Oreo’s lightning-fast response to the Super Bowl blackout comes to mind. It was seen as ground-breaking, and legions of copycats followed. Were they as successful as those who first recognized the opportunity? Not at all.


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