Reluctantly, Bill Givens had agreed to give a commencement address. He hated ceremonial events and especially the empty words of advice given to graduates which rarely had an impact. But he finally agreed.
“We call this commencement because it begins a new phase of your life. You’ve heard that before when you graduated from high school. But I think of commencement in a different way. It’s the beginning of a new way of knowing.”
“We’ve taught you how to sense what you need to do. We’ve taught you how to respond to what you need to do. What we haven’t taught you is how to know your inner source of knowing. There is a deeper level of knowing that we haven’t taught you because it’s not something we can teach. You have to develop it by being.”
“Developing this deeper level of knowing is a journey in knowing yourself. It comes from reflecting on how you become aware, how you make connections, how you perceive others, how you learn to open your mind, how you develop wise empathy, and how you become mindful of what you can do to make you and others successful in life.”
“Experience counts for very little if it doesn’t generate your deeper learning. This will require investing your time in reflection. That will be especially tough for each of you in this social media world where you are constantly distracted. You will need to develop your own style of deeper learning. You may be guided by a mentor, but beware of anyone who guides you by saying that you can only learn from those who guide you by asking. Even the best mentor can only guide you along 10% of your journey to deeper learning.”
“There are going to be obstacles to developing your deeper learning. I know that many of you can lack confidence in yourself. You haven’t yet developed your own measure of worth and those of us on this stage are largely responsible for that. Too much emphasis is placed on grades. You will find those cords hanging from your graduation gown mean very little in developing deep learning.”
“We live in a social world. For many of you hanging out is your favorite pastime. That’s another challenge to deeper learning. Reflection, which is necessary for deeper learning, is not a social activity. It’s time spent thinking about yourself and who you want to be and the learning needed to get you there.”
“Finally, deeper learning involves moving from things you are comfortable in doing, to things that will give you a new generation of experience. That takes courage. You need to enter a battle with your comfort level. It’s time to begin your deeper learning journey.”
As Bill sat down, he had no idea of whether his comments made any impact on the audience. In the days that followed he received a flood of emails and notes thanking him for awakening them to the journey they were about to undertake. As he found out, very few commencement speakers ever received such a response.
What astonished Bill was when he started receiving notes years later from those who were at the commencement. These notes were ones of reflections on deep learning. The authors wanted to share personal breakthroughs in thinking they had made. A couple of the notes also commented that they had shared Bill’s messages with colleagues. As Bill thought about the notes, he asked himself, “How can we at least encourage others to start the journey?”
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“The world as we created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” – Albert Einstein