Inspirational Commencement Speeches: Former President Obama

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Former President Obama spoke at the Barnard College 2012 commencement ceremony. He began his speech by comparing the class that sat in front of him to his graduating class of 1983 from Barnard’s sister school, Columbia University.

Much like those of 1983, these young graduates were about to set out into a world where the United States was still recovering from a severe economic recession. A recession which claimed more than five million jobs. They saw their parents putting off their retirement; watched friends who had already graduated struggling to find employment. The picture of their future is concerning and unsure, especially as women in a world that has yet to fully offer equal pay for equal work. Even with the plethora of growth of opportunities for women in the past three decades, there are still so many struggles women have to endure.

Obama goes on to encourage the class of 2012 to have a can-do spirit which is the lifeblood of American history. Not all Americans are fortunate enough to receive the skills and training this class of graduates had received at Barnard, but with their help, one day that will no longer be the case.

The challenges we face will always be solvable, but the question is whether we can bring forth the changes that we need. That will to bring about change in our own lives, in institutions, and politics lives inside each of us. Women are no longer just half of the population; they’re now half of the workforce. Thanks to the long strides of women before them, female graduates are now shaping not only their destiny but the destinies of all those across the globe.

Do more than just getting involved. We are a nation that is more than static; we are dynamic. Our focus is faced forwards, not back. New doors are opening every day, and you must seize these opportunities. Not everyone has been given the opportunities that lie ahead for the recent college graduates, so it’s imperative that these opportunities are acted upon when presented.

Lead by example and never underestimate the power that this holds. Earning a degree opens so many new possibilities. A great way to give back is by encouraging another young girl to earn her degree as well. Become a role model, be someone’s mentor. Until you’re able to imagine yourself as what you wish to become, you won’t be able to achieve it.

What the last piece of advice Obama offers is to persevere because nothing worthwhile will ever come easily. Failure is inevitable but what sets apart those who eventually succeed is the ability to learn from failure and refusal to quit.

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Inspirational Commencement Speeches: Ellen DeGeneres

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Marilyn Gardner Milton - Inspirational Commencement Speeches - Elle DeGeneres

A few weeks ago, I came across a list of the greatest graduation speeches of all time. They were inspiring and made me reflect. Last month, I wrote about Joyce DiDonato’s speech at Juilliard’s 2014 commencement ceremony. This month, I’m writing about Tulane’s 2009 commencement speech by Ellen DeGeneres.

When Ellen DeGeneres graduated high school, she didn’t attend college like many of her other classmates. Instead, she began working odd jobs such as shucking oysters, bartending, painting houses, and selling vacuum cleaners. She didn’t know what she wanted to do and didn’t have a clear plan.

When she was 19, a tragedy struck her life. She was living in a poor, basement apartment with barely any belongings to call her own. Her mattress laid on the floor and the place was flea-infested. One day she was driving down the road, she passed a horrific car accident. Later that night she found out it was her partner that was in the crash and she had passed away.

She didn’t understand why this was happening to her, so she began to do some soul-searching. She thought, wouldn’t it be nice if she could just pick up the phone and ask God why? Instead, she decided to start writing. She wrote what her phone call with God would be like if she was able to give him a ring. Little did she know, this is what would become her big break. A few years later, she was on the Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show performing this one-sided phone call.

After a few years in the industry, she came out to the public, not for any political reasons but to free herself from the heaviness of living in shame and hiding her secret in fear of displeasing others. Through this, she experienced another incredibly difficult hardship. She lost her career, became isolated from friends and family, and wasn’t able to secure any job offers. During this challenging time, she was receiving letters from people, kids, who were ready to commit suicide because of who they loved, and it was Ellen’s bravery that had stopped them. One of the hardest times in her life showed her that she had a purpose on this earth.

In hindsight, Ellen wouldn’t change a thing that happened to her. She had to lose everything to make her realize what was truly the most important thing in life: being true to yourself. She no longer lives in fear and doesn’t carry any burdens of hiding secrets.

When she was young, she thought success meant becoming rich and famous, but she realized that the image of success changes as your grow. She sees success now as living your life with integrity, being an honest and compassionate human being, and finding a way to contribute to the world around you.

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Inspirational Commencement Speeches: Joyce DiDonato

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I stumbled upon a list of the greatest graduation speeches of all time the other day. I spent the next few hours listening to all of these inspiring speakings and reflecting on the inspiration it provided to me. I couldn’t keep all of this inspiration to myself, so I’m going to write about it for all of you to read.

The first speech I listened to was by Joyce DiDonato, a great American opera singer. She spoke at Juilliard School’s graduation in 2014 to a class she named ambitious, adventurous, courageous, and talented. Her speech settled around the fact that no one truly ever knows where their journey will lead them, but if they rely on the four truths she’s learned throughout her career, one will always be able to find their center and reset themselves. These are the four truths.

1. You will never make it.
Her blunt delivery of this first, brutal truth took back the audience; however, she goes on to explain that this shouldn’t be interpreted as bad news, but instead fabulous, outstanding news. You’ll never make it because there is no “it.” If you’re always searching for the destination, you will miss out on the journey, and that is what life is all about. You hold an expectation so high in your mind that you will almost always fall short.

2. The work will never end.
Imagine being a student and hearing this dreadfully daunting truth at your commencement, after years and years of hard work. It’s intimidating. DiDonato reveals this truth to inform graduates that the work they plan to do after graduation can become overwhelming, whether it’s unexpected rapid success or heart-wrenching devastating failure. To find their center again, they must go back to the only thing that makes sense, their talent in their work. This is what will bring them solace and truth.

3. It’s not all about you.
This is a lesson many must learn the hard way, and it can be very humbling. Once you’ve learned to accept this truth, it’s empowering and freeing. DiDonato says “glory will always be transitory and will disappear as fleetingly and as arbitrarily as it arrived.

4. The world needs you.
Every individual in this world matters; no one is invisible. DiDonato reminds us to laugh, to play, to fly, and to stop taking everything so seriously. We’re all in this together, and we need to recapture the hope of living in peace with each other so we can thrive together in a vibrant way where each of us grows in wonder and joy.

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Volunteering in Boston, Massachusetts

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The magic of this time of year often leads us to feel a personal responsibility to help others in need. Whether you’re volunteering your time or donating your hard earned money, the feeling of helping others is a feeling like no other. If you’re looking for ways to volunteer this holiday season in the Boston area, consider these local charities.

Christmas in the City (CITC)
This non-profit organization has been bringing smiles to the children of Boston since 1989. For the thousands of kids and their families who are experiencing the stress of poverty and homelessness, the volunteers of Christmas in the City, along with Santa, throw an annual holiday party to bring the holiday magic back and give the kids the “best day of their lives.” If you can’t fit this volunteering opportunity into your busy holiday schedule, the CITC hold fundraising events throughout the year for the next holiday season.

Boston Children’s Hospital
The vision of the Boston Children’s Hospital is simple: “Dream, Dare, Deliver.” With over 275,000 patients each year, this hospital dreams of curing each child, dares to ask the hard questions that don’t have an easy answer, and delivers with new ways of healing. There are many ways to give to help make a world of difference.

The Greater Boston Food Bank
As a member of Feeding America, the Greater Boston Food Bank has fed over 142,000 people on a monthly basis across 190 cities and towns throughout Eastern Massachusetts. Sign up to volunteer as a group or an individual to help work in the warehouses to inspect, sort and package foods for the hungry.

Cradles to Crayons
Cradles to Crayons is another non-profit organization looking to help the 400,000 children in the state of Massachusetts who live in poverty. They sponsor local drop-offs where people can donate their lightly used clothing, shoes, toys, and books. If you’re looking to volunteer your time, you can make a difference at The Giving Factory, where volunteers inspect, sort, and package the donated goods.

The Ebenezer Foundation
As one of the board members, this organization holds a place near and dear to my heart. The Ebenezer Foundation is a not-for-profit U.S.-based organization that provides aid to the orphaned children living in the city of Livingstone in Zambia, Africa. The foundation operates an orphanage, a school, a farm, and a community food program. If you wish to donate to this cause, you can visit the website here.

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Millennials are Impacting Higher Education

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Millennials are Impacting Higher Education - Marilyn Gardner Milton1Millennials, also known as Generation Y, have grown up in the era of technology. With the internet always at their fingertips, it’s no wonder they have adapted to learning differently than the generation that came before them. Educational institutions are beginning to take note of this however they are not adjusting quickly enough. Generation Z is only just around the corner from entering into higher education, and they will be even more plugged-in than the Millennials. So what are the Millennials doing to change higher education and what do these educational institutions need to do to adjust for the future?

Increase in the Popularity of Master’s Degrees

Millennials are not satisfied with just an Associate’s or a Bachelor’s degree anymore. With limited job opportunities awaiting these [people] when they finish their undergrad, many are opting to stay in school to complete a Master’s program before entering the real world.

According to Pew Research Center, professionals with a Master’s degree are earning 23% more today than their counterparts back in 1984. In comparison, those who only hold a Bachelor’s degree have seen an increase of just less than 13%. Bottom line: if a Millennial has their goals set on earning more money in their career, they are going to be looking for a Master’s program.

A Comfort in Online Learning

Some may argue that today’s youngsters know more about the internet than we do. With that, there is no surprise that they find learning online to be comfortable and natural. Roughly 6.7 million students are taking at least one online class during their time in college. And that doesn’t account for all the classes they’re taking that use online portals such as Blackboard to submit work, collaborate with classmates, and even complete quizzes or exams. Millennials have helped build this switch from learning in the traditional classroom setting to online, and Generation Z will demand it.

Flipped Classroom

Getting Millennials to participate in the traditional classroom setting can be difficult. The flipped classroom allows the student to become the teacher, encouraging high involvement and collaboration with their classmates. According to a study performed by NYU, the retention rate of students soared to 90% when they were put in a teaching role. The flipped classroom puts students in control of their educational journey and provides a more hands-on learning perspective.

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