The following is the graduation speech that I gave on Saturday to the 2010 graduates from Laramie County Community College.
Not long ago, I sat in a meeting and listened to a retired Air Force Colonel discuss the importance of significance. I was intrigued by his insight and his use of the word in a spiritual context. Tonight, I would like extend the meaning to five areas: education, family, community, world, and self.
The simplest definition of significance is the “state or quality of having meaning or importance.”
In order to make the connection to the five areas, I have a few questions to ask you—
Question 1: What significance are you making in education? What you are doing today creates significance. What you have been doing for the past several semesters is significance. The other evening, Joanne and I were sitting with a young single mother who said, “I earned my GED, and now I am enrolled in the College.” I will make sure my daughters do not drop out of school. Her oldest daughter, now 16, is an honor student. Do you think she has created significance by returning to school? I do. And she has much to more to do. Investment in education will be the best investment you will ever make. I promise.
Question 2: What significance are you being as a member of your family? I believe families are important. For most of us, our families created significance in our lives by pushing us forward, motivating us to do better, and creating opportunities to succeed. With mother’s day just last Sunday, we celebrated Mother’s Day and remembered our mothers, no matter where they were. In another month, we will celebrate Father’s Day, another significant day. If you are a mother, what kind of mother are you? If you are a father, what kind of father are you? If you are a son or daughter, what kind of son or daughter are you being? If you are a brother or sister, what kind of brother or sister are you? You can create significance in your family.
Question 3: What significance are you making or will you make in your community? I believe many of you through service learning projects in our community have created significance. People are appreciative of what you have done. Now, what will you do as you graduate? Will you continue creating significance in the community you live in?
Question 4: What significance will you make in the world? Some of you will go out and do grandiose things by the world’s standards. Others will do things that will ultimately create significance that will reverberate throughout history—and often we may not know what significance we have done. And that’s the beauty and the power of significance.
Question 5: And, perhaps, most importantly, what significance will you create by being you? Your example, good or bad, will create significance in whatever you do. No matter whether your job is small or great, your significance, your importance, will create an aura that will touch people in small and great ways. Your mere smile will encourage others to smile. Your kind acts will motivate others to reciprocate. Your reaching out to help others will encourage them to do the same. Everything you do creates significance, and it is up to you what level of significance it will be.
Finally, I extend to you an invitation to create significance knowingly: Write a note to someone who has made a significant impact on/in your life. My preference would not be an e-mail, not a text message, not a tweet, not a Facebook or MySpace message—unless, of course, you do not know this person’s address. An actual letter or card written by your hand in real ink would be preferable. Let them know specifically why they are significant and how they created significance in your lives. When you do this, I sincerely believe you will experience “significance” in your life and in your being. Thanking those who have “created significance” for you and in your life need to know why they have and how they have. You may be the first person who has ever done this, and your mere act will create significance in their lives.
Often, many people just do what they do, not realizing what significance they might create or have created in the lives of those with whom they work and serve. It is when they receive a message from you and me, thanking them, that they finally realize, perhaps, what they might have done. In many cases, they will pass it off as being some trivial thing that they remember vaguely. But to us—you and me—what they did truly turned our lives around. I believe that is truly the meaning of significance: when we do something because that’s just what we do to better the world around us. That enthusiasm for doing what needs to be done seeps into the lives of others and somehow changes them, turns their views, helps them contemplate a new way or a more effective way of living their lives or doing something. They change because we provided them with “significance.”
Thus, my challenge, each and every day is create significance, be significant, and do significant things because you are significant.