The graduation speech I gave Tuesday is getting rave reviews from parents, the graduating students, and my fellow colleagues. Thought I would share with you.
When one hears graduation speeches, they are often full of lofty clichés about paths, journeys, dreams, wishes, steps, achievement, bright futures, etc. You will hear none of that from me. But the question remains of what to say to all of you who graduate tonight. What to say to your family and friends who celebrate with you? For the past few months, I have been reading all of the famous authors to draw inspiration: Shakespeare, Confucius, even Dr. Seuss. I knew I wanted to say something about how one designs not just objects, communications, environments, or interactions, but how one designs a life worth living. Finally, I came upon a meditation on youth in Deng Ming-Dao’s 365 Tao Daily Mediations. His words expressed simply that which I wished people shared with me at my university graduation. So here are his guidelines for young people. There are seven of them, which I will now share with you.
Number 01: “Remember that you are always your own person. Do not surrender your mind, heart, or body to any person.”
This one is very challenging to put into practice because we often want to please other people: our family, our friends, our bosses and colleagues, our lovers and spouses, and children. But if you are not your own person then there is no YOU to like, love, respect, or honour. To be able to quote some Shakespeare, “To thy own self be true.” Out of the seven, this one is the most important because the design of a life worth living requires that the designer understands and stays true to his or her intentions, although the form or medium of expression changes.
Number 02: “Maintain your health with sound diet, hygiene, exercise, and clean living.”
It is so easy to allow the stresses of the world or the ease of things to stop us for doing the most basic thing in life: taking care of oneself. If you are not healthy, then it becomes harder for you to help other people, to give your gifts and talents to the world, because you have to focus all your energy on just being well. Design requires the connection of the mind to the hand. If your physical tools are not in working, then it is more difficult to design a life worth living.
Number 03: “Money is never more important than your body and mind, but you must work and support yourself.”
There is a wonderful old song, sung by Billie Holiday that I grew up listening to. Don’t worry I’m not going to sing it. “Mama may have. Papa may have. But God bless the child that’s got his own. That’s got his own.” The greatest security in the world is the knowledge that you can take care of yourself in any situation. The fact that you decided to study design, a somewhat practical field, means that you understand that to some extent. You want to be able to take care of yourselves, even take care of your families. But that doesn’t mean selling yourself out. Here you need to go back to number 01 again. But it means that you should feel able to rely upon yourself to provide for your needs, for this provides the materials for designing a life worth living.
Number 04: “Choose your friends and living situations carefully, for they will influence you.”
A friend is someone whom you like because you like yourself when you are with him or her. If some one makes you not like yourself, they are not your friends. Get rid of them. Go back to number 01: be your own person. You now have the opportunity to develop new living situations, make sure it is around people who are kind, active, happy, and caring, so that you will remain kind, active, happy, and caring people that I know you all are.
Number 05: “A good education is always an asset.”
As an Associate Dean and an Associate Professor, let me repeat that, “A good education is always an asset.” Your graduation here today means that you already know that one, but remember your education does not stop tonight. You must continue to educate yourself in order to be able to face new challenges with new knowledge. Hmmm…that sounded a bit like a cliché. Let me keep going.
Number 06: “Everyday, make your own decisions. Everything you do will have irrevocable effects upon your life.”
Please, please. I say pretty pretty please, do not let other people make decisions for you. You will always regret it—not because their decisions might be bad, or that the outcomes will not be positive, but because to develop your own sense of judgement you need the praise of a good decision and the wisdom of a bad decision. You wouldn’t let anyone else make a decision on your final design, so why would one do so with the design of something as important as the final design of your life.
Number 07: “Know evil, but do not do evil yourself. Remember, there is a way out the delusions of life.”
Some people think it is best to go through life innocently shielded from the bad in the world. But how can you protect others if you are not able to recognize evil? How do you not do evil if you don’t know what it is? If you remain true to yourself and your own purpose in life, you will avoid the delusions of life, or at least won’t stay deluded for a long time.
So, you are now continuing the journey, on a path, of dreams, wishes, and desire in order to create a bright future full of achievement. Oops… sorry, it’s like the graduation speech virus that makes you say that. Swinburne has helped provide you with some of the things necessary for you to design a life worth living. And remember that it is YOUR LIFE that you are designing. It is you who has to find meaning in the “worth” of it. You now face the greatest design challenge that you will unfortunately continue to face for all of your life—that is designing of a life worth living. If we at Swinburne have done anything right of these past few years, we know that you are up for the challenge. So go and design a life of stunning beauty for you to enjoy and for others to be inspired.
24 March 2010
 Ming-Dao, Deng 1992, 365 Tao Daily Meditations. Harper San Francisco: New York, p. 239.