Congratulations to 2020 graduates – here’s to new beginnings

I’m loving all the ways our neighbors and friends have found to celebrate this year’s graduates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parades, virtual ceremonies, celebrity speeches—this virus brought out tons of ingenuity and creativity, so this rite of passage got the attention it deserved.

Completing this spring’s classwork took enormous effort but everyone rose to the occasion and made chicken salad from unrecognizable parts (as I was learning to cut up a whole chicken, there were always unrecognizable parts). Much of the advice we heard from speakers is good for the rest of us, too. Here are some of my favorites:

From NBA great LeBron James: “Make your community your priority.” Like most of you, my community invested in me and supported my hopes and dreams—when we all invest in it and pull together to make every corner and sector great, everybody wins.

From Comedian Chelsea Handler: “Rejection is never permanent. No one else defines you but you. Your perseverance and your tenacity is what people will remember.” I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, there is no way you can defeat an opponent who keeps getting up, who’ll go another round, who’ll make one more phone call, who will knock on one more door.

From football great Eli Manning: “There are little things that can make a difference too, like just being on time. It doesn’t require any skill or talent to be on time and to be present. Half of success is simply showing up and being present, putting you in position to succeed. Not showing up, or being late, is the quickest way to fail.” Developing good habits, like being on time and being present, will make a difference in every place, every time. My great-grandmother would say “If you take care of the little things, the big things take care of themselves.” She and Eli were right.

From Microsoft Founder Bill Gates: “Be open to change. Don’t be afraid to try something new.” COVID-19 has shown us that there are new and different ways to do all kinds of things—we must not be afraid to look for a new, improved mouse and/or mousetrap.

From Duke University Coach Mike Krzyzewski: “Make sure you have the right people on your team.” No matter how big or small your team is, it is critical that the members invest in the same hopes and dreams and be supportive. If you want to go to California and everybody else is going to Florida, the chances of you getting to California are lessened if you don’t change directions. Know where you want to go and have a plan to get there.

From media mogul Oprah Winfrey: “Use your education to begin to heal our afflictions, to apply the best of what you’ve learned in your head and felt in your heart.” Simply put, see a need and fill it.

I was scheduled to do the commencement speech at Rust College this spring. I prayed about what I could say that would matter, that would be memorable, that would change some young person’s life, that would inspire some parent or grandparent. Unfortunately, the ceremony was postponed before I could have my say.

I was aiming for a simple message like one I heard six years ago—”Believe in God, believe in yourself, believe in others.” Certainly, I’ve heard dozens of speeches, but none more succinct, profound or memorable. Today let’s be our best selves and live into our greatness. If we do, our graduates will, too.

Share your favorite words of advice to this year’s graduates at #drbondhopson on Twitter and Facebook!

Looking for inspiration, empowerment, uplift, straight talk, an encouraging word to brighten your day? You’ve arrived! Meet Dr. Cynthia Ann Bond Hopson, best-selling author, educator, inspirational speaker, sistergirl–she’s all that and more. All the way from Stanton, TN (you can’t get there from here) to 50 states, six continents and everything in between, she’s wise, witty and altogether wonderful. She enthusiastically invites you to slow down, sit a spell, and share a giggle or two.

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