Last month, I delivered a speech to the 2016 graduating class at Regent’s University London. They have eight colleges under the larger university, and I spoke to the American College (which I attended) and the school of fashion and design.
The ceremony was at St. Marylebone Parish Church where Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning were married in secret back on September 12, 1846. So it’s pretty much me and two famous poets. Not a bad roster.
I’m not going to go full Trump on my speech, but I thought it was pretty great on paper. I had to deliver a shorter version due to time constraints, and it was fine except for the part where I nervously put my hands in the pockets of my dress. (Oh my god, such a rookie move.)
Jennifer McClure came with me and said that the hands-in-the-pocket thing wasn’t so bad. (Mostly because I was behind a large podium.) Then she made me say three things that went well about the day. So I told her — I inspired the next generation of adults, I made a bunch of people happy, and I look okay in blue.
I’m not good at self-affirming statements, obviously, but I know that the speech was earnest. I told the kids — Don’t listen to adults. Do whatever the hell you want to do with your life. Just make sure it’s in the service of others. Then I quickly told them to join the alumni association. I failed to mention that I don’t belong to the alumni association, but that’s precisely the spirit of my speech. Don’t listen to me. Even I don’t trust my advice.
After the ceremony, a very old man in a wheelchair called me over. He said, “I have something important to tell you. You are never so alone in this world that your alumni association can’t find you.”
Truer words have never been spoken.
Countless graduates and parents came up to me and thanked me for my message. The parents, in particular, were hilarious. One said, “I can’t believe you told my child not to listen to me. But it’s true. I didn’t listen to my parents.”
In one case, proud parents were very eager to introduce me to their oldest daughter. She is the first kid in the family to earn a degree, and she graduated first in her class. They were so spirited, and I was moved by the family’s story.
So the verdict is in: speaking in London was an incredibly meaningful experience in my life. If you ever want me to deliver a commencement speech for your graduating class, I’d like to do it again. I think this could turn into a full-time job: motivating and inspiring the next generation of adults one graduation speech at a time!