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From actors to athletes to Oprah.
Oprah Winfrey, entertainer and philanthropist: Never has a graduating class been called to step into the future with more purpose, vision, passion and energy and hope.
Gupta: You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about this myself. I look at my three children, and I think a lot about the world that they’re growing up in. So I decided I would share some of my own thoughts and maybe even a little advice about going into the world in these troubled times.
Truth is, most people will never remember their graduations, let alone their commencement speakers. It is yet another formality in a day and a time of life when such formalities are certainly important, but mostly symbolic. I don’t remember much about my own graduation, except that I was wearing a robe — and it was lunchtime.
I remember that moment when I realized that a page had been turned in my life, that over the last several years I had learned something. I was more informed, I was better at solving problems and could more easily navigate my way through life. I hoped I had better judgment and could add some real value to the world.
Truth is, I didn’t know what I was doing. And, I didn’t know where life would lead me. I just followed a few basic rules.
Listen more than talk. After all, I already knew whatever it was I was going to say — so better to hear the other guy out. It was a valuable skill because it allowed me to be a true lifelong learner.
Finally — be kind. I learned early on when you practice kindness, it feels good somehow. Internally. Like something clicks into place. That I am fulfilling some sort of prophecy. It is a sort of reciprocal altruism. Doing good feels good. I don’t think that’s an accident. My guess is that “reciprocal altruism” was a trait, preserved and selected for in the human race. It allowed our species of human beings to survive and thrive much more than “rugged individualism” or “survival of the fittest.”
And it is more important now than ever.
This is a consequential time, and yours is a consequential commencement. You are being unleashed and unbridled into the world at a time when it matters more than I can remember in my 50 years of life.
My childhood was fairly serene, compared to yours. It was post-Vietnam, the economy was relatively stable and terrorism was mostly depicted in the movies.
If you were born at the beginning of this century, at the beginning of this millennium, however, you were just a year old when the United States suffered the worst terrorist attack on its home soil. By your third birthday, the country would become immersed in two of the longest wars in its history. By your eighth birthday, you would’ve watched your parents struggle through the Great Recession.
In middle school and high school, the existential threat of climate change made it feel to you like the trees would no longer be so green, that the birds would no longer sing so sweetly and that the world as we knew it might come to an end far sooner than our imagination had previously allowed. And now, you are dealing with the biggest health threat of the last 100 years.
We could not have imagined when we rang in the new year 2020, sitting closely, arm in arm, even sharing a kiss as the clock struck midnight, that within a few weeks, our lives would completely change. And, yet — that is what happened.
At once the tragedy, the irony and the beauty of life. And we miss the ebbs and flows of life, the mountains and valleys, the rise and the fall of our years on the planet — told to primarily stay at home. Life somehow feels a little flatter, a little grayer, a little less Technicolor.
Yes, an infection has taken hold of our planet … and life will have to change for a while. We will have to stay home, reflect more and go deeper within ourselves.
There is no vaccine yet. There is no magic therapeutic. There is just each other. And never before have we been so dependent on one another, and we must rise to that challenge. You newly minted graduates must set the example, lead the way and show us a better tomorrow.
Class of 2020, this time is your time. I know that must sound crazy. But, we will get through this. I know that, and we may likely be better — and stronger — and more capable of dealing with this in the future. And we’ll probably learn a lot about ourselves along the way.
Never does the human race achieve so much as when our backs are up against the wall.
Finally, graduates — as a father myself — I want to remind you to start that practice of kindness, that practice of gratitude today.
While it is your commencement, it may also represent the ending of another era. Of the dependence on your family, your parents, the people who have supported you along the way.
Remember to say thank you today, look the person in the eye when you do and feel it deeply in your heart.
Congratulations, class of 2020!
And thank you for listening. We’ll be back on Tuesday.
Megan Marcus is the executive producer. Felicia Patinkin is the senior producer, along with Nadia Kounang and Amanda Sealy from CNN Health. Raj Makhija is the senior manager of production operations.
This week’s episodes were produced by Evan Chung, Anne Lagamayo, Zach St. Louis and Zoë Saunders. With additional help from Michael Nedelman.
Our associate producers are Rachel Cohn, Emily Liu, Eryn Mathewson and Madeleine Thompson.
Nathan Miller is our engineer, and David Toledo is the team’s production assistant.
Special thanks to executive producer of CNN Health Ben Tinker, as well as Ashley Lusk, Courtney Coupe and Daniel Kantor from CNN Audio.