Commencement Address . . . Some Time Ago . . .

I gave a few high school commencement addresses – typically they were as follows

The student body president was eloquent in her remarks reflecting on the students’ experiences in high school and her call for her classmates to become active and productive citizens as they prepare to enter the real world.  The class had listened attentively and enjoyed the humor with which she made her points.

When she was finished, she turned to me and gave a brief but warm introduction.  The class applauded politely and I stepped up to the lectern.  It was clear to me that while the students were anxious to see the conclusion of the commencement ceremony.  They appeared to be in quite a festive mood and willing to listen.  Certainly they didn’t need anything “heavy” and I thought they would enjoy hearing some substance from someone old and perhaps wise – so long as the remarks were brief and to the point.

So I began.

“Good afternoon!  I’m delighted to be here with you today and want to thank your student president, Sarah Burke, for her kind introduction.

You only go to your own high school graduation once, and it is generally one of those occasions that you don’t forget.  So I’ll try to give you something to take with you that will help you prepare for the rest of your lives.

As a setting, let’s assume that each of you is sitting alone with your grandfather or some other such older person who cares about you and wants to give you some sage advice about your future.  He has only your interests in mind, and is willing to give you the best advice that he can as you prepare to venture forth into the real world.

As a starter, I would like you to take a moment and throw out all the advice you have received in the past and just absorb the few things that I have to say.  They are simple, represent common sense, and you can store them neatly somewhere in your brain and call on them anytime you choose.

Some of you will be going off to college – some to a four year school and some to a two year community college; some will be entering the military service, and for those of you who are headed in that direction, I thank you in advance for your service; and some of you will be going directly into the workforce and getting your career started right away.

The advice I have to share with you applies to all of you – regardless of what you will be doing after you graduate; and this advice is about skills and competencies.

You are entering a world that is vastly different from the one I entered on my own high school graduation day.

Your world is more challenging, more complex, is largely a world of illusions, and is changing more rapidly than ever before in history; but your world is full of opportunities for you.  All you have to do is find those opportunities and take advantage of them.

In order to do this, you will need what I call “Critical Skills.”

Webster’s dictionary defines skill as “the ability to do something that comes from training, experience, or practice.”

That means that you can start learning, practicing and mastering these skills now.

With them, you will thrive.  Without them, you will probably encounter some difficulty achieving your goals.

You have already been introduced to these critical skills in high school in one form or another – in your academic studies, in your extracurricular activities, in your social life, and with your family.

The skills were developed through some extensive research and are timeless – that is, they will work for you even while so many other things in the world will change right in front of your eyes.

So what are these critical skills?

There are eight of them, they are quite simple, are basically common sense, and they are easy to remember.

I will describe each of them for you.

The first one – and the most important one at that – is COMMUNICATIONS.  You have to be able to get ideas out of your head and into the heads of others, and you have to be able to get ideas out of other peoples’ heads and into your own.  You do this by being good at reading, writing, listening and speaking.

It is interesting to note that the communications skill is independent on the QUALITY of the information being communicated.  That information can be true, misleading, or an outright lie.  You might want to keep this in mind when you listen to political speeches, talking heads on radio or television talk shows, or in any sort of product advertisement.

The second critical skill is what I call a PRODUCTION skill.  Essentially it is the skill that enables you to take your idea and make it real – to make it happen.  This can be as simple as having an idea for a float in a homecoming parade to figuring out how to stop terrorism in this world.  Each of these is different in terms of complexity, but each requires the same skill.

The third critical skills is INFORMATION.  You live in a world where massive amounts of information are at your fingertips – accessible to you with the click of the mouse.  When you want to have some information about something, you “Google it!”

The information skill is simply the ability to gather and sort relevant information pertaining to a particular problem to be solved or issue to be resolved.  The skill also implies that the information gathered and sorted is judged or proved to be true.

You need information and data that is accurate and true in order to develop findings and conclusions about anything; inaccurate or false data can lead you to any sort of conclusion – right or wrong – and mostly wrong.

The fourth critical skill naturally follows from the information skill and it is called the ANALYSIS or ANALYTICAL skill.  Pure and simple, this is “Critical Thinking.”

Critical thinking is the process of deriving accurate findings and conclusions from the data you have gathered.  Reliable analysis depends on accurate and true information.

You might remember the simple expression, “P” implies “Q.”  That means that “P” – your hypothesis or premise – implies through reasoning “Q” – your conclusion.  If “P” is true, then “Q” will most likely be true; conversely, if “P” is not true, then “Q” can either be true or untrue.  So make sure the information you are using is true and not just opinion, conjecture, or simply a lie.

The fifth critical skill is the INTERPERSONAL skill.  The interpersonal skill is not a skill that enables you to win friends.  Rather, it is a skill that is best described by how others view you after you have worked with them on the job or in some sort of project.

It is more of a Teamwork skill.

It is NOT a political skill.

If you have the Interpersonal skill, then after you have worked with others, you have left them with the feeling that you have contributed value to the effort.

The sixth skill is the TECHNOLOGY skill.  The technology skill does NOT mean that you should be good at designing electronic circuit boards or anything that even resembles technical design or expertise.

Instead, the technology skill is simply an ability to SELECT the appropriate technology that is most efficient and useful to accomplish a specific task.

You all must know that your iPhone or android has more technology built into it that both IBM and General Motors had as entire corporations at the time of my graduation.  And that technology is advancing at a dizzy pace.

So keeping up with technology changes is important for you to be able to effectively use it and apply it to solve the sorts of problems you will be facing during your careers.

The seventh skill is TIME MANAGEMENT.  This is something you have not really had to face while you have been in high school – simply because high school programs are generally highly structured.  They tell you where to go and what you should be doing.  College will be somewhat the same, but you will have more flexibility; and in the military, you can be certain that there will be a relatively rigid schedule for you to follow.

But in a sense, the time management skill boils down to this:  You go to work each day and there are ten things you have to do.  Four of these things are critical – but you have to figure out which four of the ten are the critical tasks.  For the rest – you have to do the best you can – some say you just have to “fake it on the rest.”

The eighth and final critical skill is CONTINUOUS LEARNING.

Yes – your education has not been completed – you will need to continue to learn all your life.  The need for continuous learning will start the day after you graduate from college, take a job immediately, or enter the military.

The continued education skill is simply the ability to constantly learn new techniques, master changing technologies, keep up with changes in an industry, and the like. 

It recognizes that our world is changing rapidly through technology and other advances, and we need training and continuous learning to keep current in our fields.

So, face this upcoming challenge graciously and with enthusiasm.  It’s something you will just need to do.

So those are the eight “Critical Skills.”  To summarize, they are:

  • Communications
  • Production – taking an idea from concept to reality
  • Information – gathering accurate and true information
  • Analysis – developing findings, conclusions and recommendations
  • Interpersonal – demonstrating that you add value to a team
  • Technology – selecting the appropriate technology to solve a problem
  • Time Management – selecting priorities
  • Continued Education



Learn and practice these critical skills every day of your life.  With them your career will thrive; without them you will fall behind.

In the corporate world, for example, you will not be able to advance to senior management without these critical skills.

I will now give you a little bit of unsolicited advice about choosing a college, what to major in, how to select that first job, and how to succeed in the military.

First – choosing a college.  Personally, I think that a high quality college education is about 40% academics and 60% social – assimilating yourself into a new community, learning how to live in that community, participating in extracurricular activities, and making life long relationships with new friends.

You see a lot of “ratings” of colleges these days – who’s the best or who’s number one in some sort of subject, and that sort of thing.

Actually, it doesn’t really matter much.  The best college for you is the one where you feel comfortable – the one that you really love.  This college – whatever it is – will enable you to do well – get better grades – simply because you feel comfortable in that environment.  So, when you choose a college – choose more “from the heart” than “from the brain.”  You will be rewarded.  And when you get to college, focus on your academics and – especially – concentrate on learning the critical skills.

Second – choosing a major.  Again, it doesn’t really matter what your major in college will be because, like many others, you will most likely wind up in a career that is unrelated to your major.  That is true even if you want to pursue a professional degree such as medicine, law, and the like.  My wife is a good example of this.  She majored in history in college, and now is a board certified OB/Gyne physician specializing in high tech robotic surgeries.  If you major in something you really like or love, you will get better grades and have a more rewarding experience in college; and better grades will put you in a good position to be accepted into a graduate school if that ultimately is your choice.

If you are going into the military, the most important thing to learn right away are the regulations under which you will be living.  Understand that the military has been around for quite awhile and, in general, has learned how to do things right. If you do learn the regulations and what you can and cannot do, then you will find your life more pleasant and you can concentrate on your training.  You will find that a quality military experience will help you later in life if you do decide not to make the military a career.

In choosing the first job – whether it is when you graduate from high school, from college, or leave the military – focus on opportunities with companies and organizations that do things well.  You want to learn how to do things the right way – so go to the organization that does things the right way.  When you get there, do the best job you can do in whatever it might be, and concentrate on learning the critical skills.

In summary, therefore, I would like to repeat once more the eight critical skills that you must learn, practice and master during your life.  They are:

  • Communications
  • Production
  • Information
  • Analytical
  • Interpersonal
  • Technology
  • Time Management
  • Continued Education

With that, I would like to thank you for taking the time to listen to what your grandfather had to say. I encourage you to apply this information about the critical skills in your everyday life.

Consider the critical skills as solid gold.

You can take ‘em to the bank!

Again, thank you – and Good Luck to you.”





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