Commencement Wisdom from Deborah Roberts

Commencement Wisdom from Deborah Roberts

I recently joined the board of the American University of Paris, and a few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of participating in their graduation ceremonies at the majestic Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. This year’s honorary degree recipient and commencement speaker was none other than our very own, two-time GCP podcast guest, journalist and author Deborah Roberts!

Deborah’s speech was truly inspiring, filled with wise advice for the graduates.  Here is the full text of her speech:


President Stephens, trustees, distinguished faculty, and most important…Class of 2024….…


Bonjour…. And welcome to the rest of your lives.


What a glorious day this is. I am so very honored to be here with you at AUP as you celebrate your next chapter .


It’s been seven years since my connection began with the American University of Paris. My daughter, Leila, whom I thought was destined for an American university, set foot on your campus, had a glass of wine during her tour and never looked back. So began her love affair, along with her family,  with AUP. 


This is truly a joyous moment, which , let’s be honest… some of you probably thought would never come. (some of your parents probably worried about that too).  I remember junior and senior year….when you’re getting down to business and beginning to worry whether you chose the right major. Then sweating it out and sometimes freaking out during that last semester….just trying to get across the finish line…. But here you are. College graduates. For some of you, the first graduation since the pandemic.  


You’re here because you worked, believed, pulled some all-nighters, consumed some Red Bull, or maybe espresso martinis….overcame some odds, got up even after you stumbled…and most importantly, had someone who believed in you.


And don’t forget that….this moment doesn’t just belong to you…it also belongs to whomever was in your corner. Whether it was faculty, friends…family or all of the above. Someone was on this journey with you.  So, let’s take a moment to acknowledge those who helped get you here…turn around and let them know how grateful you are.


You are global citizen…you’re here because you have a broader view of life. My daughter, Leila, who’s here today, was in your shoes just a few years ago…a proud graduate. But she had a remote graduation and I know she’s soaking up this moment with you. Like you, she had a unique opportunity to meet and bond with young people who came from other countries, other cultures and other points of view, which will serve you well. 


You are about to step out into a complex world. One that feels topsy turvy. A world, which desperately needs your energy, your positivity, your patience, your kindness, your empathy and your involvement. We are fractured, we are polarized, we are loving, we are anxious, we are hopeful and we are desperately in need of new ideas. And we know that you can bring them.


Today, we know that you’re focused on celebrating. And you should indeed. You’ve worked hard. Some of you are the first in your family to graduate from college. And to that … we say tres biean! Well done.  Bring on the champagne. 


Some of you are graduating with honors….some going on to grad school and medical school…some of you already have jobs lined up. You are blazing a new trails …encouraging new possibilities for those in your lives. But know that this isn’t the end of your journey…it’s just the beginning.


The real adventure is about to unfold as you make your way into #adulting.  And while it’s an exciting time….it’s also a challenging time. You are stepping into a world of polarization.  Politically, culturally and geographically. These are tough days, and  you only need to watch 10 minutes of a newscast to know it. Protests, some of them violent, are happening on college campuses sparked by the Israel /Hamas conflict, turbulent weather is a daily occurrence. Homelessness and mental illness and social isolation have left many of us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. There is a lot to deal with. And we need you desperately. Graduates who’re prepared to take a deeper look at our problems with thoughtful nuance.


When our kids were younger we loved reading a little known dr. Seuss book called Hooray for Diffendoofer Day. It was about a couple of different schools. One of them cookie cutter and rigid and traditional. The kids were gray and morose and all colored inside the lines. The kids in the other school were vibrant, and colorful and wacky. So were their teachers.  Then it was announced that  they had to take a standardized test.  Their principal was worried.  And then one of their wackier teachers said, ‘wait a minute. We don’t need to worry about that test.  You will all do fine. We haven’t taught you what to think. We’ve taught you ‘how’ to think.” And they went on to score one thousand percent on the test. Pardon the kiddie reference, but graduates, AUP hasn’t taught you what to think, but how to think. And we are better off because of it. 


We need your intelligence, your energy, your compassion, your generosity and spirit….and most  important, your heart. We need you to bring your heart to whatever endeavor you choose to pursue.   We need you to give lots of thought to this big, ailing world of ours and to decide that you want to make a difference.  In ways big and small. And that won’t happen if you are not willing to step outside yourselves.


So, I’m challenging you today to step outside your comfort zone  if you’re are to make a positive and lasting difference on the world.  A few ideas:


Put down your phones… stop scrolling for a meaningful amount of time every day,,..and take a look at the world around you. Theirs is a lot of beauty to see if you take the time.


 talk to and get to know someone who’s the opposite of you….. Visit a place you’ve never been to.  Go grocery shopping, instead of ordering from insta cart. You never know who you’ll meet.


Compliment someone on their shoes. Who doesn’t love to be noticed for their style?


Strike up a conversation with your seatmate on a flight.  The head of a leading U.S. medical institution began talking with an elderly woman seated next to him. They had a warm talk, which led to a friendship…which eventually led to a billion donation to his medical school. You never know.


 But most of all….get involved in your world. It’s up to you to help set us on the right course. And, of course, we all know , that is your legacy here at aup.  I wish you all joy and happiness…but i also wish you a moment of failure. Yes.  Success is a beautiful goal but nothing teaches you to fight for what you want like failure. I remember the early days of my career in local news…and I blew it many times on air.  There were times I wondered if I was cut out for this business.  I failed …several times.  But today, I stand here as a network news anchor…not in spite of  my failures but because of them. Failure is a powerful teacher.


Use your phone’s key pad to talk to someone on the phone now and again…in real words …not emojis.


Tip well..give people  more than they expect.


But as you step into the real world….cherish every part of your lives. Have a little fun. Slow down a bit. Take care of your mental health. Always carry some real money in your wallet. (apple pay won’t cut it if your car breaks down).


Say thank you when someone holds the door for you.  And when you walk through a door whether it’s a grocery store or a corporate door…look back and hold it open for someone else. Life is sweeter when you make space for someone else.


Drop a handwritten note to someone you haven’t talked to in a while.


and if you’re fortunate enough to have your mom and dad in your life…call occasionally and say “I love you.” it feels like you’ve got a lot of time ahead of you…and you do. But it goes faster than you think. Seize the day as much as you can.


This is your moment. A moment to decide what you stand for and who you will be.  Not in business and in your career, but as a caring, trustworthy human being. What you carry in here (your heart) is just as important as what you carry in here (your head). 


I am so very proud of you and all you’ve worked to accomplish.


Felicitations class of 2024!. 







By |2024-06-05T22:59:43-04:00June 5th, 2024|Academics, College Bound Students, Featured, Latest News, Parents|Comments Off on Commencement Wisdom from Deborah Roberts

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