All of us have heard a graduation speech or two, at our own commencement ceremony or someone else’s. I have been there many times, for myself, children, close friends, and have even spoken at a few. The thing is, most of the time, the graduates and their guests are focused on anything but the speaker, and are dreaming their own thoughts and words, most of which seem to surround one thought: “When will this guy stop talking and let me graduate?”
That emotion obscures the fact that sometimes truly profound and potentially life-altering pieces of advice and material to contemplate are shared. I enjoy reading graduation speeches. Some are hilarious, some raise my eyebrows, and some give me much to think about.
Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company, Bezos Expeditions. He spoke at Princeton’s 2010 graduation. This man, little known in most of our circles, asked some of the most profound questions any of us could ask ourselves at critical junctures of time. I wanted to share them with you. If you are a graduate, love a graduate, or are at any point of decision in your life (aren’t we all?), take them to heart. They are making me think.
“Tomorrow, in a very real sense, your life—the life you author from scratch on your own—begins. How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?
Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?
Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?
Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?
Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?
Will you bluff it out when you're wrong, or will you apologize?
Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?
Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?
When it's tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?
Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?
Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?
I will hazard a prediction. When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story. Thank you and good luck!”
That’s my graduation word to all of us, wherever we are. Graduates, congratulations on this important step in life. No one is writing your story but you. Make it a great story!