Commencement season is upon us, when prominent people travel to colleges across the nation to deliver graduation speeches. Offering advice to the graduating class, they often touch on relevant news events and share antidotes of their own experiences.
Deep emotions abound for everyone involved. Parents and family are rightly proud at the milestone their graduate has reached, but are also perhaps a bit sad at the reminder that he or she isn't a baby anymore. That pride, a different kind of sadness and often anxiety (and sometimes relief) collide in the graduates themselves as they move out of the familiar cocoon and into the great unknown.
This year, President Obama spoke to graduates at Arizona State University, the University of Notre Dame and the U.S. Naval Academy. He spoke of current events and the need for graduates to help solve the challenges of today.
"Many of our current challenges are unprecedented," he said at Arizona State. "There are no standard remedies, no go-to fixes this time around. And, class of 2009, that's why we're going to need your help. We need young people like you to step up. We need your daring. We need your enthusiasm and your energy. We need your imagination."
He echoed a similar need for young people at Notre Dame to rise to the occasion with their energy and imagination.
"Your class has come of age at a moment of great consequence for our nation and for the world," he said. "A rare inflection point in history where the size and scope of the challenges before us require that we remake our work to renew its promise; that we align our deepest values and commitments to the demands of a new age."
Graduates this year face a faltering economy and an extremely tough job market. Less than 20 percent of those who applied for a job have one at the time of graduation. By comparison, 51 percent were employed by the time they graduated two years ago.
Commencement speakers across the country alluded to the uncertain times, but encouraged the graduates to prevail.
"The times that you are graduating in are, yes, perhaps more difficult and somewhat more daunting," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at New York University. "But that's when we really rise together."
Author David McCullough said to graduates at the University of Utah, "You who are part of this over-ripe, shadowed, uncertain time which has understandably given rise to so many grave forebodings about the future."
"We need your ideas, graduates," first lady Michelle Obama said at the University of California-Merced commencement. "We need your resourcefulness. We need your inventiveness."
"Dream big, think broadly about your life, and please make giving back to your community a part of that vision," she added.
Writer-political activist Elie Wiesel echoed similar sentiments in his address to graduates at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa.
"There must be on this planet at least one person who needs you," he said. "One person you can help. Don't turn away; help."