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Taking your suggestions (Commencement speech)

700 young adults about to step out on their own into the world.  And the last words of advice they’ll get before starting their journey … are coming from ME!  These poor kids!

I’m honored to be heading back to Atlanta in May to deliver the commencement address at Clark Atlanta University.  I’ve had a relationship with the school for years, and it’s a great compliment to be asked to come back for this important assignment.  But, it’s a little scary.  This is such an important moment for these young people.  It’s their college graduation day!  This is a day they’ll remember for the rest of their lives!  But, will they remember their commencement speaker 5, 10, 20 years from now?  Will they remember the message I give?

So, help a brotha out!  I’m fielding suggestions.  What should my message be?  What do you think these 700 graduates absolutely need to know before they go out into the world!?

T. J.


Keisha Hill

First, I would like to say congratulations on an awesome opportunity to capture the attention of 700 graduates from one of the finest schools in the state. I strongly believe new gradurates need to the importanace of determination. Often times we have great dreams but become discourage when we hit a speed bump. Staying power is the key to long term success. They need to decide what their personal belief of success is. Only then can they formulate a plan to achieve it. In my short 36 years I’ve learned to graciously accept the good with the WTF’s of life. No matter what challenges life presents they have to keep pressing forward. Lastly, I would suggest the importance of being teachable. Please emphasize the importance of working their way up the ladder. It’s imperative to maintain high-level work ethics, professionalism and self esteem in all areas of life. T.J. whatever topic you decide to speak on I’m sure the graduates at Clark Atlanta will undoubtedly apply your recommendations. May God continue to pour out blessings on you & your lovely family.

Cathy Primack

Tell them to always be true to their values. To listen to their guts and to set an example by being a “do as I DO” person…not a “do as I SAY” one.

Joyce Elliott

Please consider talking to them about quality of life in terms of NOT using massive consumption as a substitute as a measure/marker of success, thoughtfully sharing with others without self-centered preconditions, striving to slow pace of life to have time to absorb the fullness of life’s everyday and and life’s special experiences, and refusing to relegate oneself to a life of indoorsness by connecting with nature in some personal way by long walks, running, canoeing, whitewater rafting, camping, etc. I suggest a quick perusal of the book IN PRAISE OF SLOWNESS by Carl Honoré will help with my humble suggestion to speak on quality of life. In the end balance is the key. Cheers.

Bri H

Tell them that it’s more than okay to not conform to society. We are dominated by the tweets and the Instagram and vine posts, your worth is determined by how many followers you have and it’s kind of ridiculous. Tell them that they are responsible for the people who follow behind them, not just the next graduates of the school but all across the world. People are so easy to dismiss the actions of another because they feel it’s not their problem. But we underestimate just how much we can affect others. They see us, and for some reason it seems bad to do good, bad to excel, bad to expect more of others, bad to be different. But usually you can’t stand out and achieve great things if you follow the pack. You have to raise your standards and expectations for yourself first, and then you can encourage others to do the same. And that doesn’t mean you’re better than anyone else. It just means that you understand that five years from now when no one remembers the trivial things from college you shave prepared yourself for success in the real world. A world that needs innovators and creative minds to lead.


Hi T.J.,

With a degree in hand, the graduates may become easily disgruntled if/when they don’t get a job in their field of study within a reasonable amount of time, so I think it’s crucial for you to make sure they all know the importance of networking, the power of believing in themselves and the need to create opportunities to showcase their talent when none are given to them. Remind the students to never give up even when the going gets tough and to maintain relationships with positive professionals they connect with along the way. Share some of your experiences – the successes and challenges – so they can understand the type of hard work and determination it takes to make it in the working world. Lastly, don’t overthink what you want to say. If you think of a story or suggestion that you feel is worth telling, tell it. You never know what part of your speech will resonate with a particular student. And keep this in mind: how you speak to the graduating class will outlast the message you actually deliver to them, so be relatable and you’ll be just fine.

– Darnea


First of all TJ, I think each of these ladies have done a great job giving you some ideas of what to capture in your commencement address. I would also tell them not to measure their success in comparison to others, but work and live to positively impact the lives of those in their community and success will follow. Finally, I would just add to keep the actual address (aside from preliminary statements) concise 15-20 minutes.

Pat Hendricks Munson

Talk to them about a mass effort from recently graduated brothers to help save our Black boys and young Black men ftom death and destruction at the hands of fellow Black boys and young men, racist cops and white haters/white supremacists. Far too many are dieing unnecessarily mainly from gun violence, including my dear son in May 2010. It’s genocide but no one is noticing. “First they came for the Jews….” (I am confident you kmow the rest)

Twila Ferguson

Whatever you decide will be fine. My suggestion would be to remember where they came from, reach back & take time to explore the world.

B. Withers

Just like those that came before them they have an obligation to provide shoulders for those coming behind. They can do that by choosing carefully, being ethical, doing their best, giving back and honoring God. It might help to find the Graduation Address given by Marion Wright Edleman (?) years ago to Howard University Students. Its the best that I’ve heard. Whatever you choose, I’m sure you will do an outstanding job.

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