Here Are the Best Commencement Speeches of 2019
They included such individuals and titles as . . . .
Robert F. Smith: ‘We’re going to put a little fuel in your bus.’
Oprah Winfrey: ‘Life is about decisions’
Kristen Bell: ‘Listen as fiercely as you want to be heard.’
Ken Jeong: ‘Figure out what your act II is.’
Stacey Abrams: ‘You need to know what you believe.’
Glenn Close: ‘No one looks out onto the world through your eyes’
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Education is deeply important to our growth as people and as a community.’
Tim Cook: ‘Don’t waste time on problems that have been solved.’
Bill Nye: ‘Turn your fear into excitement.’
John Krasinski: ‘Lean all the way in.’
German Chancellor Angela Merkel: ‘Letting go of the old is part of a new beginning.’
The analogies used in the various speeches range from . . . .
Fuel In Your Bus
An Inner Compass
A Degree Is A Social Contract
Steering Your Ship
“The Seeds That Were Planted”
“The Maps Of My Life That Unfolded”
Leaning All The Way In
“The Path You Walked Along”
“Time” does not list them in any order of personal importance or noteworthiness. Nevertheless, the one which received some of the most coverage was by Robert F. Smith, speaking at Morehouse College.
You probably heard about him, but may have forgotten his name. You probably remember what he did after he finished his commencement speech — at Morehouse College! Billionaire, Robert F. Smith, paid off the student loans of the graduating students of 2019.
Here are some of the analogies used by Robert F. Smith in his commencement speech, “You Are Enough” – pdf . . . .
“The path you walked along Brown Street this morning to reach this commencement site was paved by men of intellect, character, and determination.
These men understood that when Dr. King said that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, he wasn’t saying it bends on its own accord. It bends because we choose to put our shoulders into it together and push.”
“Everything about my life changed because of those few short years. But the window closed for others just as fast as it had opened for me.”
“Racism is like gravity, you got to keep pushing against it without spending too much time thinking about it.”
“So I decided with confidence that I was willing to make a big bet on the one asset I had the most knowledge of — myself. “
“That doesn’t mean you should gamble with your career or careen from job to job just because the grass appears to be greener.”
“The fact is, as the next generation of African-American leaders, you won’t just be on the bus, you must own it, drive it, and pick up as many as you can carry along the way. . . . How many people will you get onto your bus number 13?”
Today’s Analogical Illustration:
There were several analogies used by Robert F. Smith in that commencement speech.
Today’s focus is on his most potent — “Bus # 13” — which was mentioned thirteen times!
Speaker: Robert F. Smith
Occasion: Commencement Address At Morehouse College — May 19, 2019
Context: Spoken to the commencement graduates, families, friends, faculty, and staff of Morehouse College, a historically black all-male college founded in 1867 by William Jefferson White, in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Rhetorical Analogy:
“The fact is, as the next generation of African-American leaders, you won’t just be on the bus, you must own it, drive it, and pick up as many as you can carry along the way.
More than the money we make, the awards, or recognition, or titles we earn, each of us will be measured by how much we contribute to the success of the people around us.
How many people will you get onto your bus number 13?”
Go Analytical: 1
#1) Lays Out The Historical Context & Transition: Smith provides the historical background of the civil rights movement, WHICH THEN MOVES INTO the background of bussing! Here is the transition . . . .
And while the 15th Amendment gave my family the right to vote – the men, at least – starting in 1890, those rights were rolled back in the South and remained suppressed until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Even today, more than a half-century after that, the struggle to ensure true integrity at the ballot box is still very much alive.
All of these landmark extensions of our rights – and subsequent retrenchments – set the stage for a new policy of forced desegregation utilizing school bussing that went into effect when I reached the first grade in my hometown of Denver, Colorado.
#2) Sets Up The Analogy: Smith then sets up the first side of the analogy by referencing the actual (A) before he swings over to the analogy (B). The first part of the analogy was an actual school bus — the physical and historic bus of the days of desegregation (A) upon which he rode in his childhood.
“I was among a small number of the kids from my neighborhood who were bussed across town to a high-performing, predominantly white elementary school in South East Denver. Every morning we were loaded up on bus number 13 – I’ll never forget it –and taken across town to Carson Elementary. . . . .
The teachers at Carson were extraordinary. They embraced me and challenged me to think critically and start to move toward my full potential. I, in turn, came to realize at a young age that the white kids and the black kids, the Jewish kids and the one Asian kid were all pretty much the same.
And it wasn’t just the school itself – it was my community back home that embraced and supported our opportunity. Since most of the parents in my neighborhood worked, a whole bunch of us walked to Mrs. Brown’s house after school and stayed there until our parents returned home from work.
Mrs. Brown was incredible. She kept us safe, made sure we did our homework the right way, gave us nutritious after-school snacks, and taught us about responsibility. And because her house was filled with children of all ages, I suddenly had older kids as role models who were studying hard and who believed in themselves. Mrs. Brown also happened to be married to the first black Lt. Governor of our state, so we saw the possibilities first hand.
Amazingly, almost every single student on that number 13 bus went on to become a professional. I am still in touch with many as they make up the bedrock of their communities today. They are elected officials, doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, professors, community organizers, and business leaders.
An incredible concentration of successful black men and women from the same working-class neighborhood. Yet when I look at my other folks from the extended neighborhood – those who didn’t get a spot-on bus number 13 – their success rate was far lower – and the connection is inescapable.
Everything about my life changed because of those few short years. But the window closed for others just as fast as it had opened for me.
That’s part of the story of the black experience in America: getting a fleeting glimpse of opportunity and success just before the window is slammed shut.
(Note: The Window Analogy)
#3) Pivot Into The Analogy (B): Smith begins by touching on the meaning of the coming analogy.
The fifth lesson and final lesson for today is as follows:
We all have the responsibility to liberate others so that they can become their best selves – in human rights, the arts, business, and in life.
The fact is, as the next generation of African-American leaders, you won’t just be on the bus, you must own it, drive it, and pick up as many as you can carry along the way.
More than the money we make,
the awards, or recognition, or titles we earn,
each of us will be measured by
how much we contribute
to the success of the people around us.
How many people will you get onto your bus number 13? (B)
Note: Getting people onto your bus means = “to liberate others.” You don’t know that he is going to use this earlier phrase until he calls up the analogy which then pictures “liberating other” by putting them on your “Bus 13.”
#4) Rephrase & Re-Drive The Analogy: Smith takes the word “bus” and uses it again . . . .
No matter what profession you choose, each of you must be a community builder. No matter how far you travel, you can’t ever forget where you came from.
You are responsible for building strong, safe places
where our young brothers and sisters can grow with confidence…
watch and learn from positive role models,
and believe that, they too, are entitled to the American Dream.
You Men of Morehouse are already doing this. Your own Student Government, in fact, sends students on a bus to underserved communities around the country to empower young black men and women to seize their own narrative and find power in their voices. . . . .
You are well on your way. I’m counting on you to load up your bus and share that journey.
Let’s Duplicate It!: Once the pattern is seen and quantified, it can be duplicated!
#1) Call up an experience.
#2) Give some background to it.
#3) Set up the (A) side of the analogy.
#4) Pivot to the analogy (B) and touch on the intended meaning of the analogy before using the analogy.
#5) Restate & re-drive the analogy.
While playing ice hockey during my high school years, there were occasions when I or another member of the team was penalized by the referee. The offense was not serious enough to eject me or another player from the game, but serious enough to merit time in the penalty box.
You could not participate — You were in the penalty box for 2, or 4, or 5, or even up to 10 minutes.
The team was not allowed to replace that player until the time determined was up.
Typically, the second that penalty was over, you were standing, hand on the door of the penalty box, stick in hand, ready to jump back in the game.
When you are sitting in that penalty box . . . .
√ You are not ejected from the game, but you cannot participate.
√ You are still there on the sidelines, but you can’t participate.
√ You still have on the team uniform, but you can’t participate.
√ You are able to watch and listen to the game, but you cannot participate.
√ You are still officially on the team, but you can’t participate.
√ You can cheer for your team, but you can’t participate.
√ Your team will play one person short because you can’t participate.
√ Your team may be scored against because you could not participate.
√ Your team might even lose the game because you could not participate.
√ You will be allowed to reenter the game, but right now you cannot participate.
That is what can happen to some of God’s people, even some of the most gifted “players” — like Samson. Samson was finally penalized for his sensuality and disobedience.
Finally, Samson was put in the Philistine’s penalty box — the penalty box in Gaza — in jail and in chains.
When that happens today, and when that happened to Samson . . . .
√ Samson was not ejected from the game, but he no longer was able to participate.
√ Samson was still officially on the team but was no longer able to participate.
√ Samson still wore Israel’s uniform on, but he could not participate.
√ Samson could listen to the game (no longer able to watch), but he was in chains and could not participate.
√ Israel was “on the ice” but missing a key player, because Samson was no longer able to participate.
√ Samson will be able to reenter, but for this period of time, he can not participate.
How long was Samson’s penalty period?
Whatever length of time it took to grow a head of hair again.
Whatever period of time it took for Samson’s hair to regrow AND for him to realize that he could go back into the game.
There came a time when Samson realized that he was going to be allowed to get back into the game. He was anxious for that opportunity to participate He was standing, hands on the banquet hall pillars, ready to jump back in . . . and make a difference.
No matter how you have messed it all up — and not allowed to participate as you should have, could have, would have . . . . Maybe the Lord is ready for you to leave the penalty box — and join the team back on the ice — and make a difference?
1. I am not laying out the flow and development of Smith’s argument, which could be the subject of another interesting analysis. I am only focusing on the use of his analogy.
Therefore, the analysis of the actual analogy may seem disconnected from the flow of argument as a whole. The (A) part of the analogy is set up early on, and then the (B) part is used and reused further down in his speech.
The (A) part of the analogy begins on page 5 — “Every morning we were loaded up on bus number 13.”
The (B) part of the analogy is on pages 10, 11, and 13 — “How many people will you get onto your bus number 13?”.
Another Powerful Excerpt:
And most important of all, whatever it takes, never, ever forget to call your mother. And I do mean call – don’t text, a text doesn’t count!
Speaking of mothers, allow me a point of personal privilege to end with a story that speaks volumes about mine.
In the summer of 1963, when I was just nine months old, my mother hauled my brother and me 1,700 miles from Denver to Washington, DC so that we could be there for a Morehouse Man’s historic speech.
My mother knew that her boys would be too young to remember that speech, but she believed that the history we witnessed that day on the National Mall would always be a part of the men we would one day become.
And Mom was right, as usual. I still feel that day in my bones, and it echoes all around us here at Morehouse.
Decades after that cross-country trip, I had the privilege to take my granddad with me to the opposite side of the National Mall to celebrate the inauguration of the first African-American president.
As we sat in the audience on that cold morning, he pointed to a window just behind the flag, in the Capitol Building and he said, “You know, grandson, when I was a teenager I used to work in that room right there, in the Senate Lounge, I used to serve coffee and tea and take hats and coats for the senators.” He said, “I recall looking out that window during Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration.”
He said, “Son, I did not see one black face in the crowd that day – so here we are, you and I, watching this.”
He said, “Grandson, you can see how America can change when people have the will to make change. . . . .
So, class of 2019:
May the sun always shine upon you.
May the wind always be at your back.
And may God always hold you in the cradle of Her hands.
Now go forth and make this old world new.