Commencement (aka Common Cement)

My twins graduated from 8th grade last week. Like most mothers, I’m shocked my babies are suddenly grown up and ready to enter high school.

I’ve given out so much advice to my sons over the years, that anything more I’d add to their Daily Mom Advice quota is going to be a waste. But I’ve discovered that hearing the same thing from a different source often makes it sink in.

So today, I’m sharing some fun and meaningful commencement speeches that I think all of us, no matter what age we are, can appreciate. They’re a bit long, so I’m condensing some of the important advice after the video. And at the end, I have a list of some popular books to give graduates!

First up is the hilarious Ellen DeGeneres (and the reason behind my blog title):
When I was younger I thought success was something different. I thought success was to be famous, become a star, drive nice cars….My idea of success is different today. Definition of success changes. Success is to live your life with integrity and to not give in to peer pressure to try to be something that you’re not. Success is to be honest and to contribute in some way… Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path then by all means you should follow that…

Life is like a one big Mardi Gras but instead of showing your boobs, show people your brain, and if they like what they see you’ll have more beads than you’ll know what do with.

Tulane University
May 11, 2009

Second is the talented and also quite funny, JK Rowling:
Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.

Harvard University
June 05, 2008

And lastly, the awesome Oprah Winfrey:

The lesson here is clear, and that is, if you’re hurting, you need to help somebody ease their hurt. If you’re in pain, help somebody else’s pain. And when you’re in a mess, you get yourself out of the mess helping somebody out of theirs. And in the process, you get to become a member of what I call the greatest fellowship of all, the sorority of compassion and the fraternity of service.

But when you do good, I hope you strive for more than just the good feeling that service provides, because I know this for sure, that doing good actually makes you better. So, whatever field you choose, if you operate from the paradigm of service, I know your life will have more value and you will be happy.

Stanford University, Sunday, June 15, 2008

Recommended books for graduates:

Any age from K – College:  Oh, The Places You’ll Go – Dr. Seuss

8th grade graduates: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The Dangerous Book for Boys or The Daring Book for Girls by Conn Iggulden and Andrea J. Buchanan, respectively.

High School & College graduates: Life Is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live Intentionally by Patti Digh

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell

101 Tips for Graduates: A Code of Conduct for Success and Happiness in Your Professional Life by Susan Morem

Live It, Dream It, Do It: Turn the Life You’re Living Into the Life You Want by Leslie Levine

Readers, what is your favorite piece of advice for my sons and the graduates in your life?

About Misty Evans

USA Today Bestselling Author Misty Evans writes the award-winning Super Agent series, as well as urban fantasy and paranormal romance. She likes her coffee black, her conspiracy theories juicy, and her wicked characters dressed in couture. When her muse lets her on the internet to play, she’s on Facebook and Twitter.
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23 Responses to Commencement (aka Common Cement)

  1. Edie Ramer says:

    I just listened to Ellen’s talk. I heard JK Rowling’s already but will listen to hers and Oprah’s again later. I love these kind of talks. I listened to Neil Gaiman’s the other day, too, and his was great for an author. Like Ellen, he didn’t go to college. I think there’s a theme going on there. lol

    My advice to your sons is to listen to their mother, because moms know best.

  2. Misty Evans says:

    Yes! I love that advice, Edie.

    Today, my sons are going on their 8th grade field trip and had to be at school early. Usually their friend from up the street walks with them and he wasn’t at our house at 7:10, so they became concerned that he didn’t know what time the bus was leaving. I told them not to worry, that his mom would get him to school on time. One of my sons said, “But I didn’t know we had to be there at 7:15 until you told us last night.” My reply: “That’s why you have a mom.” He responded, “And thank God for that.”

    Made my whole day. 🙂

  3. Liz Kreger says:

    Giving advice is a tricky road. I try to give advice and infuse integrity through example. If I know I did something wrong, I fix it and make sure the little darlin’ is with me when I do so. She’ll understand that everyone makes mistakes but its a better person who wil rectify them. My hubby was once given $200 by the bank when he requested $100. My daughter asked why we didn’t just keep it. I told her that not only was that dishonest, but the person at the bank who was responsible for the mistake could get fired for suspicion of theft. We went to the bank and personally returned the $100. The girl was so grateful that she nearly cried. Said they were searching for that error all day and she hadn’t slept a wink. That more than anything made an impression on my daughter. I hope something like that sticks.

  4. Amy Remus says:

    My 10 year old loves The Dangerous Book for Boys. I need to get the girl one for my daughter, as I am sure she will like that too. I love it when kids realize the need their mom for more things than they realize. As for advice for your sons? Stay away from girls for a long time! 🙂

    • Misty Evans says:

      Amen to that advice, Amy! I have girls showing up at my house on a daily basis anymore to see if my boys can come out and talk. Scares the heck out of me. LOL.

  5. Amy Atwell says:

    Misty, what a great topic! I don’t have kids of my own, but I did direct a lot of children’s plays back in my theater days. My advice is more of an outlook I share. I’ll sum it up this way. Work is work and Life is life. If you focus on living the right kind of life, I believe you’ll find the right kind of work. But if you focus too much on your work, life may pass you by.

    Congrats to the boys and to you, Mom!

  6. Beth Watson says:

    Thanks for sharing Misty! I’d never seen Ellen’s speech. I love her! She’s so awesome! I got up and danced with her at the end. 🙂 Now I’m pumped up and ready to write!

  7. Joe Barone says:

    Twins! Congratulations to YOU for having help them get this far.

  8. Failure is a verb not a noun.
    Karin* Tabke aka Harlow!`s last blog was …CAPA Winner!

  9. Dale Mayer says:

    Hi Misty,

    Major congrats on the boys grade 8th graduation! My daughter is graduating from grade 9 this year, and she looks so mature – it’s freakin scary! I also have two sons graduating university this year and I have look at them and wonder where all the time went.

    I’ve often told my kids that I might not be the best mom on the earth, but I show up everyday prepared to be the best one I can be. 🙂
    Dale Mayer`s last blog was …Update on my books in progress!

    • Misty Evans says:

      Congrats to your posse, too, Dale. Graduation is a huge milestone, no matter what age we are. I like your take on being a mom. Being a parent is hard, so doing our best day after day makes a positive impression on our kids.

  10. Misty, this is a FABULOUS post! Even though we don’t have any close friends or family that are graduating this year, our son will be an 8th grader next year… I should be preparing myself by starting to collect this wisdom early :). I really loved all of the speeches, but this line from Rowling’s was especially touching to me: “And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” That’s a wise statement for any of us who have struggled with anything…

    My best advice: Get enough sleep. Exercise. Eat healthy foods. Do something creative and productive every day. Show the people who are important to you how much you care. (I tell myself these same things because, really, I need to work more at #1, 2 and 3. 😉 )

    • Misty Evans says:

      Marilyn, that is great advice. We have to take care of ourselves as well as those around us. As mothers, we often take care of everyone else first. And I’m with you, I need to work on these areas myself!

  11. Cynthia Eden says:

    Congrats on their graduation! 🙂 And I love these speech snippets–so inspiring!
    Cynthia Eden`s last blog was …Guest Author Joan Swan

  12. Misty, I had heard JK Rowling’s speech before, but not Ellen’s and I LOVED it. Thank you for sharing and huge congrats to your boys for their milestone.

    I’m always telling my kids that they should do to others as they’d want others to do to them. For me, this way of living means an empathy with the people you share the world with.

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