An Honest Motivational Speech for 2016 College Grads

06/23/2016 05:13 pm ET

Dr. John J. McGrath, Chief Executive Officer and President of TCI College, gave the following commencement speech to the Graduating Class of 2015 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City.

TCI College

Good afternoon everyone and congratulations to the TCI Class of 2015. It is an honor to stand before such a distinguished group of women and men who are about to receive their College Degree.

Today is your day! Today, you earn a college degree which is a testament to your intellectual acumen and spirit of determination. And, as you know better than anyone else, you earned it. No one – no one can ever take a college degree away from you.

You dreamed about this day, graduating from college – sometimes against all odds.  You sacrificed and persevered to achieve your dreams. You did not give up!

Many of you juggled the competing demands of family, work and college. Some of you are parents, some of you are single parents, but despite all the obstacles, despite all the times it would have been just too easy to give up – you said no — and you overcame the obstacles placed in front of you. You earned this success today!

Some of you came to college as an “Ability to Benefit” student without a high school diploma – but you had the courage and fortitude to take and pass a tough federal test to get admitted to the college. And now, here you are — graduating.

I want to let you in on a fact to success and happiness. The real inspired leaders of this world are those who prepare themselves intellectually and never give up their dreams. A simple rule for a true leaders is: “If the front door is closed, go through the back door, if the back door is closed, go through the window.  And, if necessary cut a hole in the roof.”

“If the front door is closed, go through the back door, if the back door is closed, go through the window. And, if necessary cut a hole in the roof.”

Courage, passion, determination, and creativity are the true hallmarks of champions! You — the graduates of TCI College — are champions. Faith in yourself, commitment to excellence, and vision.

Your family is here today because they love and respect you. For many students, your family provided the shoulders for you to lean on to get you to this point — Graduation at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. Your parents respect you (will the parents please stand and be recognized), for those of you who are married, your husband and wife respects you (will the spouses please stand and be recognized), and for those of you who have children, they deeply respect and look up to you (will the children of the graduates please stand and be recognized). Now, everybody, let’s have a great round of applause for our champions – our TCI 2015 graduating class.

I would also like to recognize the distinguished faculty at TCI – they intellectually and professionally prepared you to be here today (will the faculty please stand and be recognized). The TCI administration and staff have also worked hard and have had real faith in you (will the administration and staff please stand and be recognized).

I would also like to thank the New York City Police Department Pipe Band. They are here every year at our graduation ceremony; “Up the Field.” And, for those playing in the beautiful string quartet during the ceremony, thank you.

My father always reminded me that: “Courage is Half the Battle.” He was right.  Securing a college education was the right move! You academically prepared yourself for reaching your goals in a very competitive world. My dad shared with me something that I carry every day: “The person who knows 'how' most likely will have a job, but the person who also knows 'why' will most likely be the boss.”

“The person who knows 'how' most likely will have a job, but the person who also knows 'why' will most likely be the boss.”

You invested an important part of your life in earning a college education. The faculty challenged your mind to not only comprehend “How” to do something – but “Why!” College helps you with being able to think critically, write accurately, speak effectively – and college provides you with the foundation for intellectual inspiration to secure greater heights.

Take this great college education – combine it with your courage, determination, passion and creativity – and change the world.  Because, “existentially”, you are free to achieve your dreams.

As I reflected about addressing the TCI graduating class of 2015, I chose the following quotes from philosophers, intellectuals, political leaders, civil rights leaders, and athletes because they have greatly inspired me throughout my life – and, I hope they inspire you as you go forward as TCI graduates in the world.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” 

    1. Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Men should look within themselves to get a true value of life. You must critically analyze the effects of your choices and actions in the process of becoming and determining your future.

    2. Aristotle: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

    3. Harriet Tubman: “Every great dream begins with a dreamer.  Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

    4. John Wayne: “Courage is being scared to death — and saddling up anyway.”

    5. Nelson Mandela: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” “There is no passion to be found in playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are living.” “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

    6. Malcolm X:  “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” “A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”

    7. Victor Hugo: “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”

    8. Albert Einstein: “A person that never made a mistake never tried anything new.” “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

    9. Martin Luther King, Jr.:  “Change does not role in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.  And so, we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.  A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”

    10. Michael Jordan: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I lost over 300 games. Over 26 times, I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” “I have never been afraid to fail.”

    11. Rocky: “Let me tell you something you already know. The world aint all sunshine and rainbows. It can be a mean and nasty place – and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it aint about how hard ya hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now if you know what you are worth, than go out and get what you’re worth.  But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you aint where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody.  Cowards do that and that aint you. You’re better than that.” “It’s not how many times you get knocked down that counts – it’s how many times you get back up.”

    12. Muhammad Ali: “I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.” “If you ever dream of beating me, you’d better wake up and apologize.”

If possible, I encourage the graduates to secure their Bachelor’s Degree and, if possible, go after postgraduate degrees. Again, no one can ever take a college degree away from you!

Please listen very carefully. I want you to lead an inspired purposeful life. At the end of the day, when you look back on your life, you will ask yourself: “What good did I do when I was here, what contribution did I make for this short time I was here on earth?”

“What good did I do when I was here, what contribution did I make for this short time I was here on earth?”

I want to suggest something very private to the graduates. I challenge you to reflect upon your own personal Mission Statement in life. Reflect on it deeply.  Write it down. Place it in a hiding spot known only to you.

Where do you see yourself two, five, ten, twenty years from now? Then, go back to your Mission Statement at those intervals and truly examine your life.  Compare your dreams with reality. How are you the same? How did you grow? How are you different? Did you meet your goals? Did you have the courage, determination and inner confidence to reach those goals? Or, how did new dreams replace existing dreams?

Reflect upon your life intellectually and spiritually. Don’t worry about critics; there are always plenty of those. Stay true to courage and passion as reach your dreams.  I’d like to quote former President Theodore Roosevelt with respect to critics and real success in life.

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust, sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again because there is not effort without error and shortcomings. But who does actually strive to do the deed, who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause. Who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place will never be with those cold and timid souls that know neither victory nor defeat.”

“It is not the critic who counts...The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust, sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again because there is not effort without error and shortcomings.

Be honest with yourself. Stand tall with grace and integrity.

Remember that great intellectual genius, Rocky Balboa: “It’s not how many times you get Knocked Down in life – it’s how many times you get Back Up!”  Stay strong and passionate. Always follow your heart. Trust yourself.  Pursue your dreams with dignity. Never give up!

I will end with a most sincere Irish Blessing: “May the road rise to meet you.  May the wind be always at your back. May the rains fall softly on your fields. And, may God hold you forever in the palm of his hand.”

Congratulations. God Bless You.

This speech was originally published on McGrathEducation.com.

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