Student Commencement Address, Fall 2010 - Jordan Graves


But What Does it MEAN?
Dealing with post-graduate doubts
and revealing the true value of a degree

Jordan Graves
Dec. 11, 2010

Good morning, everyone!  With the five minutes given for me to speak, I would like to discuss the post-graduation process with each degree recipient on an individual basis. A task like this seems impossible, especially under such a time restriction, but with some unorthodox techniques and a little participation, we can certainly accomplish this goal.

For starters, I would like to ask the graduates to please stand. While standing, consider the moment you finally hold your degree in your hands, as well as your long-term future after that moment. Right now, if you can visualize where you will go and what you will do, and understand how you will get there in specific, accurate detail, then you may return to your seats.

If you are still standing at this point, it’s because you’re not sure about something.  Uncertainty has found its way somewhere into your plans for your future after graduation, whether those plans concern major or minor decisions. Please take your seats, and thank you.

This demonstration reveals a few things. First of all, it shows just how common post-graduation doubts really are.  If you were among those even slightly unsure and still standing, it’s important to understand that this type of situation occurs quite regularly and is far from abnormal.  In fact, I haven’t been standing this entire time just because I don’t have a chair…

Secondly, this test forces us into a dilemma. We all know what degrees we are receiving today and what they certify us to do, according to this university. So, with the typical perception of a degree as a “means to an end,” or a “key to unlocking our professional future,” what we know about our degrees would eliminate any ambiguity concerning where to go, what to do, and how to get there, and consequently, we would have all sat down together. Unfortunately, this is not the case. We are all receiving these degrees today, and we know what they entail on paper, but many of us still have questions that need answering. Therefore, there must be another meaning behind these diplomas, something more substantial and valuable than their use in career applications.

In order to uncover this true meaning behind our degrees, I would like to ask one more favor from the graduates--I need you to think. I want you to go back days, weeks, months, and maybe even years. I want you to remember the worst academic day you’ve ever had at NMU. Visualize that day in your mind and summon up everything that happened.

It was the day you woke up late and failed five different tests, all before lunch!  It was that same day you hoped to turn your misfortune around with some good food from a place with variety and atmosphere. Naturally, you found yourself at the Wildcat Den, but would find no salvation this day.  The Den was serving sloppy joes, and you despise sloppy joes. Feeling yourself slide further into a downward spiral, you struggled in class throughout the afternoon, hardly retaining a word of your professors’ lectures. At the end of your evening lab course at nine o’clock that night, you dragged yourself home, dropped your overfull backpack at the door, and crawled into bed. Do you remember what it felt like at the end of that day? Can you remember that hopeless feeling of anguish and sorrow?  “I can’t stay here. It’s too hard.  I’m not ready, and I’ll never be.” Do you remember all the things you told yourself that night? Can you still feel that overwhelming pressure of failure, of letting down your family and yourself?

Now take a look around.  Here we are, at our graduation. We made it through that terrible day with hard work, utilizing the skills we developed along the way. Obviously, we made it through that day and all our days with great success, considering we are now here together, wearing these stylish caps and gowns.

I’d like to wrap things up with a few last thoughts and pieces of advice. For those of us who know exactly what our post-graduate futures entail, I am proud of you. There is no greater feeling than the idea of following a well-planned road map, and moving from point to point without a care or worry in the world. For those of us who still have questions, do not be afraid or discouraged. Go into the world with your head held high and your dreams even higher.  Imagine the feeling of finally realizing the answers to your questions, and be motivated by the fact that they are out there, ready for you to find.

For everyone, I want to finally explain the real meaning of the college degree. Based on what we now know, a degree is representative of the character, determination, responsibility, and maybe even a little maturity in all of us. And so, with that in mind, my final point is this: whether they are intended to help us with our dream job or graduate school or some other destination in life, college degrees are by no means a guide for what we are supposed to do; rather, they are representations of the good qualities we have all gained here at Northern and will retain every day hereafter, and that simple fact is something we should all be proud of as individuals and as a graduating class.

Congratulations graduates, thank you, and go Cats!