How my commencement ceremony went – reaction to Mitch Albom’s speech

On May 22, 2011 was held the Quinnipiac University’s undergraduate commencement ceremony (you can see me on 0:53:38). The undergraduates who successfully completed their studies at the university were 1,333, and I was among them.

Since I have seen previous commencement ceremonies at the university, I knew what to expect from it as far as its organization went. However, this commencement ceremony was more special to me because it was my commencement ceremony. It was also the one of 1,332 other undergraduates among whom were good friends of mine – people that I know I could count on as well as they should know that they could count on me when we need each other.

Being a more special ceremony, I was more interested in what its speaker, author Mitch Albom, had to say than I was interested in previous ceremonies’ speeches. I knew he was there to inspire us. In fact that was the purpose of his presence there.

I am aware of how inspirational speakers behave. Inspiration is by definition the power of moving our emotions. The purpose of moving our emotions is to urge us to behave in a certain way in the future, and try to retain that behavior.

For example, if someone is inspired to serve their community, that someone would look for ways to serve their community.

Mitch Albom’s inspiring speech was focused on giving. His example with his dying professor, Morrie Schwartz, was the meat of his speech. Mitch Albom had promised him to keep in touch with him after he graduated – a promise, Mr. Albom said in his speech, would break making money and being busy establishing himself within his professional community. Mr. Albom had been doing all that for sixteen years until he saw Professor Schwartz on TV, and found out that Mr. Schwartz, his favorite professor, was about a month away from passing away.

Mitch Albom would visit Morrie Schwartz every Tuesday, and would conclude that his professor – dying and struggling to feed himself – looked happier than Mr. Albom did regardless of the fact that Mr. Albom was a lot healthier and a lot younger than him. It turned out that the reason why he was happier than Mitch Albom was because he lived his life to the fullest, and that he focused on reliving the good times in his life in his mind.

The sad reality is that most of us rarely take this perspective in life, especially as years pass by, and Mitch Albom didn’t miss to make this point. I agree with him when he said that older people generally envy young people’s youth, energy and good looks. However, older people have lived through what young people are living through, and by dreaming about their past they could live through it again. While remembering is not the same as experiencing, I definitely find this approach useful for one to make the most out of every age they have been through, and therefore the most out of their life.

Mr. Albom then went on by arguing that we shouldn’t be profit maximizers and maximalists in general, that after all we would not be able to take our money and our belongings to our grave. Therefore, we should be giving, and be indifferent about whether we end our lives with $1 million or $10 in our checking accounts. That’s my impression of his speech. Mitch Albom used the argument that people who are dying are the ones who are most willing to give, instead of wanting to touch a plasma screen TV, for example.

While I agree that profit maximizing and maximalism should not be the mantra of our lives, and that we should be giving something to our community, we can’t afford to always be giving. Here are some reasons why I disagree with his speech’s agenda – inspiring us to be giving:

First of all, we have one life to live. In order to make the most out of our lives we have to focus on profits which would then, provided that we attain these profits, buy us decent housing and the ability to have children and take care of them for the next about twenty years until they become financially independent. When we are about to pass away we will have known that we lived a life of a decent quality instead of having been miserable and having constantly worried about how to make ends meet.

Second of all, his speech instilled a feeling of guilt for wanting to succeed. Striving to succeed is bad – look at me and how much I regretted for having ignored Professor Schwartz, and making money and establishing myself within my professional community instead” is how I interpret his speech. He should have considered that impression about his speech before giving it, and he should have therefore tried to address it.

Third of all, if he is such an advocate for giving as he tried to portray himself in his speech, he should have given it for free. Commencement speakers are paid to give their speeches, and I doubt that he was an exception. Otherwise we would have known about it. That sole aspect makes him look hypocritical at best.

Overall…

There is nothing wrong in trying to make more money as long as you don’t break the law. By trying to make more money you may end up helping yourself and your community by living well and possibly creating jobs respectively. Also, not being able to take your money and your belongings with you in your grave doesn’t mean that you can’t give them away to your beloved ones making them happy.

If Mitch Albom had included my counterarguments in this article in his speech, and had addressed them, it would have been a lot better and more convincing, rather than a one-sided plain propaganda. I was generally disappointed with his speech.

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