An Untold Commencement Speech

About one year ago, I was sitting on the rooftop of my parent’s apartment complex, playing spectator to the bustling, anxiety-inducing scenes of Hong Kong’s finest (depends which side you’re on) Wanchai District. I was up there reflecting deeply on the 4 years spent at university, and naturally, gravitated towards sentiments of regret. I would say I had a “successful” college career: I made a solid group of friends, was a regular starter on the baseball team, had good grades, studied abroad and so on. Yet, as I dug deeper into these self-reflections, I realized that my 4 years could’ve been summed up in one word: comfortable (can read about my problems with comfort here). I decided that I wanted to break out of this cycle of routine, banality, and comfort dictated my 4 years, and in the end, defy all expectations for myself. Thus, I started writing my first draft of a commencement speech. In the end, I was a finalist for student speaker at the 2016 Questrom School of Business Commencement ceremony, but nothing beyond that. Despite not being selected, I found myself satiated and even sedated with a feeling of pride, joy and hope for my future as a value-seeking member of society.

In the end, I was a finalist for student speaker at the 2016 Questrom School of Business Commencement ceremony, but nothing beyond that. Despite not being selected, I found myself satiated and even sedated with a feeling of pride, joy and hope for my future as a value-seeking member of society.

To the trustees, faculty, supporting members of the Boston University community, family members, and most importantly, to my fellow students, welcome to the Questrom School of Business Commencement ceremony for the Class of 2016. My name is Daniel Alter, and I am truly honored and delighted to be the undergraduate student speaker for this year’s ceremony.

Surely I can reminisce about my 4 years here at Boston University and reflect on how each individual moment, good and bad, has shaped me as a person. I could discuss the moments of triumph, and the moments of failure. What was done right, and what was done wrong. The things accomplished, and the things left defeated. The countless hours spent at Mugar and Pardee library, the midterms, final exams, executive summaries, memos, presentations, group assignments, office hours, and of course, all the team meetings…and so on. I could also reflect on moments that went beyond the academic setting. The treacherous winds and destructive rain of Hurricane Sandy. The act of terrorism we witnessed on Boylston Street, a World Series championship, a Super Bowl championship, the second snowiest winter in Boston’s history, and so much more. But again, this is not what my education at Boston University has meant to me.

At the end of today, my fellow classmates and I will each have a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, with a specific concentration or multiple concentrations. A testament to all the hard-work we put in…physical evidence of our scholastic achievements. We will proudly leave this ceremony with a wealth of knowledge, technical skills, and hopefully greater confidence that we are now job-ready. But to tell you the truth, this too is not what my education at Boston University has meant to me.

My time at BU, specifically in the Questrom School of Business, has helped me understand why it is that we learn, and really what it means to be a student of life. What it means to develop a compassionate brain, a mindful brain, a smart brain… one that isn’t brooding in things that don’t matter, and really focusing on what is truly important.

I remember many years ago a very close friend of mine shared with me a quote that the purpose of education is to make your head a more interesting place to live inside of for the rest of your life. This concept further illustrated the fact that everything we experience in this waking life and how we interact with these experiences is really up us. It is up to our own individual existence to decide how the world should be experienced. It is up to ourselves as conscious agents to seek the truth and beauty of life in the form of existential jazz. To illicit wonder and awe, and attempt to make every moment a moment of aesthetic reality. To assimilate epic poetry, rhapsody, rapture, and awe in our lives, even at times of triviality or banality. To me, this is what it means to be a student of life. And in the end, reaching this revelation is what my education at Questrom has meant to me. So now the question is, what does the future hold for us?

Some of us already have full-time job offers and many of us here today will be leaders in our respective fields… going on to change lives and make a difference in the world. The only problem is that we are also always going to be waiting for what’s next. Always trying to get to our next destination. Always pressing the fast-forward button and trying to rush through everything. We will be hurrying and delaying as an attempt to anticipate the future, and resist the present. Unfortunately, this is not how life should be experienced. Instead, we should live as if we are constantly on a hero’s journey. A journey created for our own innate desire and serendipitous quest for internal and external discovery. A life-time dedicated to relinquish this nagging existential angst that we all must endure and to realize our fullest potential and realize who we are as humans. To take steps forward with compassion, empathy, and mindfulness. This is what it means to be exercising the human condition. This is what it means to be on a hero’s journey.

I never really thought that my college graduation would come. I must also admit that I never thought I would be standing here before you all today giving this speech. I worked countless hours trying to perfect this speech… meticulously crafting words and phrases and stylistic approaches to somehow, by some miracle, express everything that I’ve been thinking and feeling for the past couple of months…and everything that I’m thinking and feeling in this very moment. But I came to the conclusion that this is not possible. But if there is anything to take-away from this speech… it is this: be more mindful. I understand how overly sounding woo-woo or spiritual this may be, but I say it simply and plainly. Be more mindful.

To my fellow classmates, when you soon walk across that stage to receive your diploma, when you go on to congratulate and celebrate with your fellow classmates, and most importantly, when you go and thank your parents, family members and loved ones for everything they sacrificed for you so that this day could actually happen, be mindful of that moment. Let’s forget about the selfies, Facebook likes, Instagram captions, hashtags, and all of the countless distractions that have ceased to inhabit the minds of us millennials and let’s really connect with that present moment. Find fulfillment there. Find fulfillment in whatever waking moment you can. The reality of life is always now. The hero’s journey begins now. Be more mindful.

Thank you.

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