The below is my commencement speech from my college graduation in June 2007. How to reward people who have helped us on our journey?
Distinguished guests, faculty, parents, friends, and fellow students:
I am honored to represent here the Class of 2007 and congratulate you to graduating from one of the best universities in Central Europe! From a university that stands out for its international focus, English as the language of instruction, dedicated academic and administrative staff, and us – its students.
When I was asked to deliver this speech, I was wondering – what exactly should I talk about? Should it be a collection of our past memories, experiences, and achievements, or rather wishes and aspirations for the future? In the end, I decided to keep it simple. To share with you just one story.
It is a story about a 9-year old boy. He came from a rural, middle-income, and unemployment-struck environment. His ambitions were limited. He was not dreaming about studying at Harvard or working on Wall Street. He was thinking about graduating from university in his country, and getting a job in his local city. His view on world and his place in it was essentially shaped by the environment he came from.
One day, when the boy was traveling on a tram, an American gentleman in his 70’s, was asking fellow-passengers for travel directions. But no one understood him. No one spoke English. This small boy approached the older gentleman and asked with his broken English: “May I help you?” He wanted to offer help… But in the end, he was the one who actually received it…
That day, the old gentleman made a commitment. He was going to help this small boy. He wanted to show him the world outside of his local city. He wanted to improve his English. He wanted to motivate and inspire him. And he wanted to teach him that one can be successful if one really wants to.
The older gentleman began sending the young boy postcards from international travels, stamps, and newspaper articles. He corrected the grammar and spelling in the small boy’s letters, and sent them back with comments. He paid for the young boy’s expensive English classes. He praised every one of his small achievements. He even visited him in his local city every time he was in Europe.
All this motivation, praise, and attention worked wonders. The small boy started working hard. He had motivation and a role model. He believed that working hard, and aiming high will bring rewards. The small boy turned into an ambitious and motivated young man.
The old gentleman devoted his time, energy, as well as financial resources to make a difference in someone else’s life… He offered help, without ever asking for anything in return.
Those of you who know me better may have heard this story before. I am the small boy, now young man. The old gentleman is now 87 years old. He was planning to come here today, but had to cancel his trip at the last minute to take care of his ailing wife.
This is my story. Now think about yours. Think about your role model. Your mentor. The person who helped you the most. It may have been your parent, brother, sister, friend, teacher, colleague, boss, or a complete stranger. Think about how much this relationship gave you, how much you gained, and ask yourself whether you would be here if it were not for this person. I know that I would not. All of these people helped us, challenged us, criticized us when we needed it, and praised us when we deserved it. I believe that many of these extraordinary men and women are here with us today. On behalf of all of us, I would like to say a big, sincere Thank You.
You may ask – How can we return what we received? How can we pay back to all these people for their help?
It is not about giving back; it is about paying forward. It is about helping someone else. Let’s all think about one person, one person, whom we can help. It may be our brother, sister, cousin, friend, or a younger student. Don’t start with big ambitious goals; start small. Take the person for a coffee or lunch. Enquire about school progress. Praise for a job well done. Motivate. Serve as a mentor. Offer advice. Donate some of your time, energy, and knowledge. And don’t expect anything back.
We all can make a difference. We all can leave an impact… the same as someone made in our lives. And we will not only help someone else, but also ourselves. Because by giving, we all grow.
Today, we finish one part of our lives, and start another. We conclude our studies, get our degrees, and are about to start our successful careers… Before changing big corporations, countries, and the world, let’s try to make a difference in one person’s life. Let’s all make that commitment today. Thank you.