Yesterday was Flag Day June 14th…and it is marked in my neighborhood with flags on every lamp post, a parade, and color guard celebration on the high school lawn.

The day commemorates the American flag, Old Glory, standing tall and flying free over American soil for 228 years is the symbol of: Freedom, Democracy, National Pride, and History. Many have lost their lives defending it.

Flag Day also marks for me the collection of commencement speeches made in the weeks prior. I live right next to Brookline High School, and am involved with the festivities. Cars in my driveway, families laughing loudly, balloons and flowers, lemonade stands on the sidewalk by little kids taking advantage of thirsty customers.

I am always interested in who is chosen as the keynote speaker, in colleges and universities , their message, and how well are they received.  I want to be inspired. What would I say if asked?


Remember last year all the controversy about speakers and prominent people pulled out at the last minute. Not This Year.

At Boston University Meredith Viera, I am a fan, (interesting choice) urged graduates to get involved, even if they do not have a full idea how to contribute “Get yourself to a place, take a stand, and be present. If you haven’t found a job, taken a career path yet, don’t freak out or let that immobilize you.”

At MIT graduation, US Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, an MIT Alum, and assistant to the President,  she left Silicon Valley for a job in government and encouraged MIT graduates to “show up where we are more rare”. She told the graduates to use their talents for service, and that “kindness is as important as knowledge”.

“Make history in the infinite ways that your heart takes you. Work in teams and respect others in the workplace”

At Wellesley graduation celebrated Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a rousing speech talking about feminism, her support for alum Hillary Clinton, and what its like to be quoted by Beyonce in her empowerment anthem “Flawless”.

Madeleine Albright at Tufts praised graduates for engaging in protests to lay off janitors saying their voices heard on behalf of the voiceless. She said to “rely on guidance from your inner compass, that will determine whether you area drifter, a doer, or an active citizen.”

Thomas Pickering, former ambassador, spoke at Brandeis.Public service will bring you the opportunity to be part of a mission that has the greater good in mind, and the ability to advocate and make changes and improve and support the lives of many at home and the world “

Chancellor of UMass Boston, J. Keith Motley, a powerful personality and booming voice said to 4100 graduates,“you are here today because you did the heavy lifting of juggling academics, family commitments, work, and you seized every opportunity you could. You are living proof that the place our fathers dreamed of, this university whose mission is to provide opportunity and transform lives for you and generations to come. “

Michelle Obama was a busy gal. At Oberlin College she talked about “everything we do or say can either confirm the myths about folks like us or it can change those myths.”  She shared personal thoughts about her as the first African American First Lady. At Tuskegee she shared the stereotypes that followed her to the White House. She was honest, humble, and authentic. She spoke at a high school graduating class on the South Side of Chicago and drew lessons from her own upbringing : “Never be afraid to ask for help, instead of being discouraged by hardship, reach higher.”

Massachusettes Governor Charlie Baker at SuffolkBe constructive, be positive and try to focus on what works instead of what doesn’t.”

Nick Offerman, from “Parks and Recreation “ gave the commencement speech North Bennet Street Woodworking School. He was both silly and serious as he lamented the culture of consumerism that puts a premium on profits at the expense of design and quality.

High School speeches, for me, are more special  than the grand ceremonies of colleges and universities, where students speak, sharing accomplishments of valedictorians with passion on their way to the big schools, the football players that did not surrender to the gangs and will be at college in the city schools, the regular kids that made it, the scholarships awarded. There are the friends that have been together since grade school now to be separated by choices on different paths. Many student speeches stated “Don’t make the goals today a measurement of your success. Don’t stop…keep moving forward.” Encouraging a new generation to embrace whatever avenue they may take.

J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter creator) gave the commencement address at Harvard a few years ago and published the speech in a book, ‘VERY GOOD LIVES’. Two topics close to her heart were the focus.

  • the benefits of failure-having the courage to fail is vital to a good life and measure of success
  • the importance of imagination –imagining ourselves into the place of another, particularly someone less fortunate than ourselves, is a uniquely human quality to be nurtured.
  • (and get over blaming your parents for anything) Be thankful.


Hillary officially launched her campaign At Roosevelt Island in NY. Echoing the 4 freedoms in Roosevelt’s 1941 speech, she defined the four fights she would wage as a president: equitable economic growth , national security, better treatment of children and families and more efficient and less corrupt government …they got it right this time…she hopes…

For me what ties all of this together, is a simple sentence.

“The sky’s the limit”  and we are fortunate to live in a country where this is achievable.

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