MCD Partners

Memphis Daily News
Life's Many Graduations
June 2, 2014
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald

Delivering a commencement speech is the easy part. Writing one is more difficult. It take years, if not decades, to understand what it takes to survive, to succeed, to thrive, to find your passion, to encourage others, and to understand that the things that go wrong often lead to the things that go right.
It’s graduation season. Graduates everywhere are listing to speeches delivered by people who want to say something that will inspire and infuse the graduates with the passion to soar. I know; I have delivered many commencement addresses. What can you possibly say to a group of students eager to get on their way that will hold their attention, even briefly?

I just returned from Atlanta, where I delivered a commencement address. It reminded me that we are people of ceremony and ritual.
Every occasion of transition is cause for celebration, but graduations are special. They herald a readiness to take on new responsibility with a greater depth of insight as to who we are. It is not about being, but becoming. All graduates, no matter their rank in class or the difficulties they experienced along the way, are celebrated and recognized for their accomplishment and readiness to fulfill their purpose in life.

Each is a source of pride to friends and family, and an inspiration to those who follow. Each time I speak to graduates, I realize that the problem with graduations is that they only happen at the end of the levels of formal schooling.

The truth is that your most significant graduations happen throughout your lives. Those graduations often go unheralded, even by you.

All your life, you graduate. You pass from one stage of experience, insight and knowledge to a higher one. You change gradually. Your life is not just about what you do, but about who you become, regardless of – or because of – your job, position, status, commitments, relationships, strengths or weaknesses.

It takes more than a diploma to map out the journey that your life takes as your soul seeks to fulfill the potential and purpose in you. It takes more than academic preparation to dedicate yourself to that purpose. It takes more than a degree to live the kind of life that brings hope to others. Since the last time you formally graduated, who have you become, and how have your transitions been recognized and celebrated?

Maybe it’s time to “graduate” to the next level of who you are becoming. Maybe it’s time for a graduation speech. So here it is, for wherever you are now.

Stay in the game. Don’t let others define who you are. Practice letting go of specific outcomes. Choose to be magnanimous, a person of integrity and influence who will give hope and courage to others. Embrace kindness; seek opportunities to be of service to others. Live a life that matters, because what really matters is not your competence, but your character, not your success, but your significance. And when you’re through changing, you’re through.

Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit

Leaders in Educational Consulting and Models for Success
© 2018 MCD Partners