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The Perfect Graduation Speech: Look Back and Look Ahead

Step by step, dressed in black robes and hats, they enter the arena in single file. First the A’s. Then the B’s. Then the C’s. And on it goes, until every soon-to-be graduate is standing in front of his or her chair.

It is fall commencement, which takes place every December. The arena is packed. Families are waving to their graduates. Cameras are flashing. Air horns are blaring. You can feel the energy.

Then the music stops.

The president of the college welcomes the audience to this year’s fall graduation and introduces a speaker to deliver the commencement address: you.

You’ve been asked to make three key points in your speech based on what you’ve learned this year. You walk to the podium. You clear your throat. You smile. And you start to give your speech.

But what do you say?

For me, fall graduation is the most interesting, because it takes place at the end of the calendar year. It’s a natural time to look back, look ahead and reflect on what you’ve learned. Who better to share your newest experiences and knowledge with than a room full of people about to graduate?

Here is what I would say this year:

1) Take a walk. Every day. Walking for 20 or 30 minutes sounds simple, but it clears your mind, keeps you present and gets your body moving. And the older you get, the harder it becomes, so do it now while you can still enjoy it.

2) Talk with people about money. Don’t just go talking to strangers, but do talk to people who are in a financial position you respect or who are personal finance professionals. This year I’ve met so many adults who grew up in households where their family didn’t talk about money. Now these adults are drowning in debt or just barely getting by, and they don’t see a way out. Whether you have $20 a month to save and invest or $2,000, it’s almost impossible to reach your financial goal without knowing your options for getting there. Financial education is always something that you’ll wish you began earlier. Start now.

3) Call your parents. Yes, I know you don’t like talking on the phone. You don’t even have your voicemail set up. But your parents want to hear your voice. They’re old-school. So call them.

Now ask yourself: How am I acting on what I’ve learned this year?

For me, it’s counting 10,000 daily steps using my Fitbit. It’s opening a savings account for our 3-year-old daughter. She gets to deposit her allowance herself. And after writing this column, I’m calling my mom. Because if I don’t, she’ll call me five times until I answer.

In a way, you and I are graduating this December, too—to being better humans and facing a new year. Congrats, fellow graduate! Let’s take on the world together.

Check out 6 inspiring commencement speeches for a dose of motivation.

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