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2014 Commencement Speakers Urge Millennials to "Stop Worrying So Much"

"You should always try to find the toughest audience you can. That’s how you get better at what you do." --Jay Leno, Emerson College

| BY Donald Liebenson

For Millennial college grads, this really is the first day of the rest of their lives. But first, the commencement address, a time honored tradition that, at is best, sends them into the world motivated to maximize their potential and challenged to be the generation that sets things right.

The Class of 2014 has thus far seen the usual stellar roster of speakers, who are pretty much sticking to the classic commencement address script: Big Topics (Michelle Obama spoke about segregation to Topeka, Kansas high school grads, Bill Nye addressed climate change at the University of Massachusetts); life lessons, reality checks; and reassurance.

But there has been another prevalent theme this year, fear, facing it and overcoming it, and speakers ranging from Baseball Hall of Famer Tony LaRussa to Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock have some thoughts on the subject.

Here are words of wisdom whose calls for hard work, courage and fearlessness are not necessarily for Millennial college grads only:

NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, University of Connecticut

“You become an astronaut the same way you accomplish any goal – through hard work and perseverance. You achieve big things not with one big step but with many small steps. You didn’t complete college in one day. It took you working hard almost daily for four or five years. Other big goals and accomplishments will probably take a similar level of work and effort.”

Jill Abrahamson, Wake Forest

Very early last Thursday, my sister called me and she said, ‘I know dad would be as proud of you today as he was the day you became executive editor of the New York Times. I had been fired the previous day, so I knew what she was trying to say. It meant more to our father to see us deal with a setback and try to bounce back than to watch how we handled our successes. ‘Show what you are made of,’ he would say. 

Colin Powell, High Point University

“Find that which you love doing and that which you do well. When you put those two together, you have put into place the roadmap for a successful and satisfying life.”

John Lewis, civil rights icon, Emory University

“Be bold, be courageous, stand up and speak out. You must find a way to get in the way, you must find a way to get into trouble — good trouble, necessary trouble."

David Remnick, editor, New Yorker, Syracuse University

"What gnaws at you? And what will you do about it?"

Jeff Baumna, Boston Marathon survivor, Fisher College, Boston

“We are all running a marathon in one way or another. Today you are at the finish line of one race, but life is full of starting lines and heartbreak hills. You just have to keep running forward.”

Jay Leno, Emerson College

"You should always try to find the toughest audience you can. That’s how you get better at what you do."

Tony LaRussa, Washington University

(Speaking about “Bad fear”) “You feel this anxiety, the expectation of pressure and you decide that you’re going to dodge it. And you’re just not going to participate. You will regret that the rest of your life. You’re going to face a lot of opportunities where there’s an uncertain outcome and you’ve been given the opportunity to try it. Bad fear means you call in sick. And you will never ever have a strong personal feeling and a strong enough ego to be successful and take advantage of what you’ve gone through your whole life.”

Sandra Bullock, Warren Easton Charter High School

"Stop being scared of the unknown. The unknown we can’t do anything about. Raise the bar higher. For some reason people want to see you fail. That is not your problem, that’ is their problem. I only remember the moments where I tried beyond what I thought I could do.  I do not remember the failures, because I didn’t. Nothing is a failure, it’s just not supposed to work out that way, because something better (will) come along.”

Jennifer Lee, director of Frozen, University of New Hampshire:

"Self doubt is one of the most destructive forces. It's consuming and cruel.  My hope today is that we can collectively ban it. When you are free from self-doubt, you fail better, “You accept criticism and listen. If the first draft of ‘Frozen’ was the one we made … it wouldn’t be ‘Frozen’ and I wouldn’t be standing here, for sure,”

Charlie Day, actor, Merrimack College

"You cannot let a fear of failure or a fear of comparison or a fear of judgment stop you from doing what’s going to make you great, You cannot succeed without this risk of failure. You cannot have a voice without the risk of criticism and you cannot love without the risk of loss. None of it comes easy. I don’t think you should do just what makes you happy I think you should do what makes you great. You don’t thave to be fearless. Just don’t let fear stop you.”


About the Author

Donald Liebenson

Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.  

A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.