Although the season for commencement addresses has only just begun, I can make a prediction with utter certitude: No address on any campus in America will convey more genuine wisdom, more simply or memorably, than the address that Bill McGurn delivered last week at Benedictine College.
As a professional speechwriter [until returning to the Wall Street Journal a few months ago, Bill was chief speechwriter to President Bush], I am painfully aware of the forms common for this occasion. The clichés fall into a familiar pattern: Dare to be different … do your own thing … and don’t be afraid to be a “rebel.”
There is something false and cheap about all this. It is well not to be afraid of being different, and it can be a form of courage. But if we aim to be different only for different’s sake, the likelihood is that we end up as the ultimate cliché – rebels without a cause.
That is not why men and women choose Benedictine. Your alumni include highly talented CEOs, military officers, members of the clergy, leaders of great foundations, and even a Nobel Prize winner. These people owe much of their success to the start they were given here. And whatever their field of endeavor, I believe all would agree with me about three propositions that are easily forgotten and only painfully re-learned.
First, who you marry is far more important than what career you choose. Over the course of a life that has taken me across three continents, I have met many accomplished men and women. And I have always been astonished by the number who give more thought to choosing the job they may hold for a couple of years than to choosing the spouse to whom they will pledge – before God and their friends – to remain with until death they do part.
Second, no professional achievement – no matter how extraordinary – can match the thrill of seeing the absolute love and confidence reflected in the trusting eyes of a child who calls you Mom or Dad.
Finally, you will not find lasting happiness by pursuing it. Happiness is the byproduct of a contented life. And the surest path to a contented life is to put the needs of others before your own.