Wisdom from Hoda Kotb

My Facebook and Instagram feeds have been flooded with graduation photos for the last two weeks. College graduations, high school graduations, middle school graduations, even 3rd grade graduations. Whatever the grade, finishing a school year is a milestone.

10 days ago, I went to a graduation. My step-son’s college graduation at Tulane University. This was a milestone for a variety of reasons, not the least that I realized I have a college-graduate step-son…

That Saturday was a day filled with family, pride, smiles, champagne (of course!), and also a very insightful Commencement Speaker, TV star Hoda Kotb. She has co-hosted the Today Show; has been a correspondent for Dateline NBC, has won a Daytime Emmy Award, and at least one of her published books has made it to the New York Times Bestseller list.

I loved her funny, witty, honest, and touching speech, during which she told the story of how she got to where she is today after graduating from Virginia Tech. She had great advice for the graduating class, and their families…

  • You don’t need everyone to like you. You just need one person to like you. (In the context of being rejected from 20+ interviews before landing her first job)
  • Always show up to work with a blazer. (How you look and first impressions actually making a difference)
  • Do not forget the people who helped you. Ever.
  • The best advice you might get in your life might come from a perfect stranger. That doesn’t mean it’s not advice you should follow.
  • Don’t call your journey. It’s not just for you.
  • Life has margins, which are to be valued and not wasted.
  • Hold on to the things you love and get rid of the things you don’t. (In the irreverent context of her husband)
  • If you survive anything in your life (from a first interview to cancer to everything in between), you get four words: “you can’t scare me.” (Repeat out loud and often)
  • Have the courage to ask. (As my Mom always said, you don’t ever get a yes from not asking)
  • You are the sum total of the five people you spend the most time with. Choose your friends wisely.

Thank you Hoda! And congratulations Parker!

Lessons From a High School Graduation

Two nights ago, I attended my husband’s son’s high school graduation in New Orleans. I guess I should say I attended my step-son’s graduation… It was a warm Louisiana evening, filled with proud parents, happy siblings, and excited graduates. I couldn’t help as I watched the ceremony, listened to the speeches, and enjoyed the music, thinking back to my own high school graduation.

What I remember most from my graduation (back in 1995… yikes!) is the overall theme of “yes you can.” Our speakers (whether students or guests) spoke of ambition, of endless possibilities, of dreams coming true, and of changing the world. That day, there was nothing I couldn’t do. No goal was too far out of reach. No plan was too ambitious. If I wanted to do it, I could, and I would. Watch me. While I still believe in that feeling, it has been informed by almost 20 years of life, which in my case has meant entrepreneurial highs and lows, personal love and loss. Today, I still know I can do anything I set my mind to, but I also know it will probably be hard.

I was surprised that that was indeed the theme of Parker’s graduation Commencement speaker. Anh “Joseph” Cao, former U.S. Representative for Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District (the first Vientamese-American elected to Congress, he served from 2009 to 2011) and a candidate for Attorney General of Louisiana, spoke of his life, of the lessons he learned along the way. He spoke of being born in Vietnam and leaving his home country at the early age of 8. He spoke of wanting to be a physicist, but then becoming a Catholic Priest. He spoke of realizing it was not his vocation and of becoming a lawyer. He spoke of losing everything during Hurricane Katrina, of having to rebuild everything. He spoke about life being filled with hope, but also filled with hardship. His three pieces of advice to the graduating class were:

–          Be prudent

–          Be disciplined

–          Be persistent

I listened, and nodded in agreement. This theme re-emerged at the very end of the evening, when the Principal granted the graduates their diplomas, and ended the night by quoting Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never give up.”

While I couldn’t agree more with either the former Congressman, or the Principal (these are lessons and words I live by every day), I still somehow missed the innocent naiveté of the messages I heard at my own graduation. Then again, I thought to myself, we aren’t exactly in 1995… the messages I heard Tuesday night were a stark reminder of the “different reality” we live in today.