Last month I had the privilege once again of speaking at the commencement ceremony for the regional high school where I serve as Chairman of their Governing Board. It was a privilege not only because I was able to participate in a very important event for both the graduating students and their families, but also because it gave me the opportunity to reflect on the experiences and perceptions these future leaders and employees have of our world.
As I mentioned in the speech below, this latest cohort of graduates represents the beginning of a generation of students who’ve grown up in a world where change has not only been grand in size, but great in speed. Perhaps more importantly in terms of today’s organizations, we’re also beginning to see the next wave of future employees who are not only comfortable with change, but expect it.
For this group of newly minted graduates and for those next in line, change is the new constant. As such, they don’t share our drive to discover that so-called “new normal” with its promise of providing a new unchanging landscape where we can once again find predictability and normalcy.
Looking forward, this presents both a benefit and challenge for leaders when the time comes to add this next wave of graduates to the current blend of multi-generational workers found in today’s workplaces. For while this group can certainly help organizations in navigating within a world of seemingly perpetual change, they will do so with the expectation that the work they do in itself will also change as well.
Not simply in terms of roles and responsibilities, but possibly even in regards to the very nature of the work itself.
It’s for this reason that I think the message behind this speech is important not only for these graduates, but for today’s organizations and their leaders. That as much as we need to be ready for whatever challenges and opportunities our organization will face today, we also need to be ready to address this changing and evolving landscape from which our future employees will arrive.
We need to be ready to address how they can apply their native talents, creativity and genius towards creating a sense of purpose and meaning both for themselves and our organization. We need to be ready to create an environment that doesn’t simply manage change, but creates change that can help us to move closer to achieving our shared goals.
And we need to be ready to communicate a vision and purpose which doesn’t simply serve one group – be it our shareholders, our customers or our employees – but one that serves to create value and meaning for all of them.
In speaking of the future, Eleanor Roosevelt said “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” If you ask me, that definitely sounds like a future worth setting our sights on today so that we might build for tomorrow.
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Principal Barnes, teachers and staff at Heritage, invited guests, and of course, the graduates of the Class of 2013, I would like to thank you for the honour of speaking before you on this most special of days.
Today, the world is at a crossroads – between where we’ve been and where we could be. We face a choice of sticking to what we know – of the familiar and comfortable – or challenging ourselves to discover what we should be.
It’s a dilemma that this graduating class is familiar with because you’ve dealt with this issue for the last five years as members of our community here at Heritage. Whether it was in the classrooms, in the hallways, the cafeteria or on the various school trips and activities, you faced that question of whether to stick to what you know or be willing to challenge yourself to learn what you’re truly capable of and what you can give of yourself to those around you.
It’s that spirit to embrace change, to see challenges as opportunities and a willingness to see things differently that helped to fuel the successes you’ve achieved culminating in this moment. And it’s also that spirit that our world needs from every one of you to help us move forward in the next chapter of our collective story.
There’s no question that the world has changed in the five years that you’ve been here at Heritage, and that it will continue to change with every second that’s measured and counted on life’s clock. More than any other generation, yours has been one that has seen changes that have not only been grand in size, but great in speed.
And while some might mourn the loss of familiarity and security – of knowing the path you must take to achieve your life’s dreams and ambitions – your achievement today is not about that and certainly not what your graduating class should represent. On the contrary, it should be about creating meaning, of finding and nurturing a sense of purpose in your collective efforts both for yourselves and for those around you.
So while the path before you might not seem as clear as the one your parents and your grandparents took, know that it’s only because you haven’t charted it yet.
You only have to look back on your time here at Heritage to see evidence of your native talents, creativity and genius that have brought you to this moment, to this achievement of being here as members of the class of 2013 – an accomplishment that I know your teachers and the administrative team here at Heritage have little doubt you will accomplish again in the next chapter of your academic or work career.
That’s why I stand before you today, in the presence of your family and friends to encourage you to be ready. To be ready for whatever opportunities and challenges will cross your path moving forward.
To be ready to use the time you spent among the friends, mentors, and supporters here at Heritage to help guide you to seize the moment, to embrace the challenge and learn from the outcome, regardless of whether it’s a heart-thumping success or a heartbreaking failure.
Be ready to believe in your talents, your insights, your experiences and creativity that will help you to see and understand not just what you must do, but what you’re meant to do.
As Dr. Howard Thurman once said “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
On the behalf of the Governing Board here at Heritage, I would like to congratulate the Class of 2013 and to encourage each of you to be ready to embrace what you are meant to do.