Spring is graduation season – a time of caps, gowns, diplomas, and graduation speeches, where speakers pass down ‘wisdom’ to the graduates. Today’s high school graduates are members of Generation Z, so we wanted to dive deeper into the advice they are receiving on this major milestone, what that means for the overall attitudes and behaviors of this generation, and how that differs from the graduating classes that came before them.
This is a generation that lived through the downturn of the economy. They have watched parents, older siblings, and other members of their community struggle. While Millennials grew up believing the world was their oyster, Gen Zers take a more practical approach – understanding that life won’t always be rosy and that it will take hard work and sacrifices to reach their goals. Through the years, we have seen a shift in the most popular high school commencement speeches – from a tone of hope and optimism to one of realism.
Words of wisdom to Millennials:
Bill Clinton, Sidwell Friends School, 1997
“We celebrate your passage into the world in a hopeful time for our Nation and for people throughout the world. For the first time in history, more than half of all the world's people live free, under governments of their own choosing. The cold war has given way to the information age, with its revolutions in technology and communications and increasingly integrated economies and societies. Scientific advances and a growing global determination to preserve our environment give us hope that the challenges of the 21st century can be met in ways that will permit us to continue the advance of peace and freedom and prosperity throughout your entire lives.”
Doug Marlette, Durham Academy, 2005
“There is hope. And today is the beginning, Square One, for all of you…Ease up on yourselves. Have some compassion for yourself as well as for others. There’s no such thing as perfection, and life is not a race.”
Ray Sidney, Edwin O. Smith High School, 2007
“Know that with hard work you can achieve great goals, but also know that there’s more to life than just your career. If all you ever do is work, you will regret it. You will look back on your life, and no matter how much you have accomplished, you will wish that you had lived differently. Play time and family time and sleep time are all necessary for you to recharge yourself, to keep yourself from burning out, to get perspective on what you’re doing and what your life means, and to get good ideas for the future.”
Jonathan Youshaei, Deerfield High School, 2009
“We also hold the power to turn our dreams into reality, which is another part of achieving 7/7ths. But at 18 years young, it’s hard to know what your dream is. Sure, some of us may know what we want to do in life, but even those people may find a new inspiration along the way. So for the many of us still trying to figure out what we want to do, just give it time, and you’ll find your dream or maybe it’ll find you. And when you find that dream, you gotta get after it, protect it, and dare to be idealistic. Just like with failure, though, society has turned us against that word — idealism. But make no mistake about it; we desperately need more idealistic thinkers in the world today.”
Said to those on the cusp of the two generations:
David McCullough Jr., Wellesley High School, 2012
“You are not special. You are not exceptional. Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests…you’re nothing special. You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless…we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole. No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it…Now it’s “So what does this get me?” As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans.”
And the graduation messages given to Generation Z:
Michelle Obama, Santa Fe Indian School, 2016
“Now, I know that perhaps I’m asking a lot of all of you. And I know that sometimes all those obligations might feel like a heavy burden. I also know that many of you have already faced and overcome challenges in your lives that most young people can’t even begin to imagine—challenges that have tested your courage, your confidence, your faith, and your trust.
But, graduates, those struggles should never be a source of shame—never—and they are certainly not a sign of weakness. Just the opposite. Those struggles are the source of your greatest strengths. Because by facing adversity head on and getting through it, you have gained wisdom and maturity beyond your years.”
Larssa Martinez, McKinney Boyd High School, 2016
“Let me be frank. I am not going to stand up here and give you the traditional Hallmark version of a valedictorian speech. Instead I would like to offer you a different kind of speech. One that discusses expectations versus reality…When people see me standing up here, they see a girl who is Yale bound, and who seems to have her life figured out. But that is far from the whole truth. So at this time, if I may, I would like to convey my fair share of realities.”
The messages given during graduation ceremonies are just one of the ways we have seen a shift in the way that Millennials and Generation Z think and act. If you would like to find out more about how Generation Z and Millennials differ, Mary McIlrath will be presenting a retrospective look at both generations at the Marketing to Generation Z Conference in New York on July 20, 2016. You can click here to register attend the conference! If you plan to attend, let us know so we can give you our sponsor discount code!