MCD Partners

Memphis Daily News
A Graduation Speech to Inspire
May 12, 2016
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald

Graduation season comes with hundreds of commencement addresses meant to encourage and inspire. If you didn’t hear one this year, allow me to share an address I gave.

“Did you ever hear something that so captivated your thoughts that it eventually defined the process of your decision-making? I did. It was a quote attributed to Rev. Martin Niemoller, a Lutheran minister, about his experiences in Germany during World War II.

“First they came for the Communists,
I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade-unionists,
I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t in the trade union.
Then they came for the Catholics,
I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Catholic.
Then they came for me, and by that time, there was no one left to speak up.”

“Niemoller supported Adolf Hitler in his rise to power, until Hitler declared the supremacy of the state over religion. Niemoller then began to speak out against Hitler, but by then, those who would have supported him had already been arrested or feared for their lives. Niemoller was arrested and confined to a concentration camp.

“After his release at the end the war, he became an ardent spokesperson on the dangers of apathy in situations that adversely affect the human condition, and how those situations often creep in subtly because they don’t affect us directly at first. He was a changed man, on a mission to make a difference for future generations, a mission to speak up for others.

“I am here to share that quote with you so that you will know that each one of you also is on a mission to make a difference in this world, a difference that only you can make. I really don’t know what your mission is. Maybe you don’t either. But you will if you choose to live a life that matters. Because what really matters is not your memory, but the memories of you that live on in the lives of others you touch along the way. What matters is not how long you will be remembered, by whom, and for what. What matters is not your competence, but your character. What matters is every act of kindness, integrity, compassion or sacrifice that you do that enriches, empowers or encourages others. What matters is not what you learn, but what you teach, not your success, but your significance. What matters is giving voice to the truth.

“It won’t be easy. There will be struggles. But if in those struggles you are living your mission then the light you shine, each in your own way, will illuminate the path the world will take. Walk this path of yours with a sense of humble arrogance. Have the boldness to believe that you can make a difference, that you can bring hope to others, and that the life you live matters.”

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