The Best Commencement Advice For This Year’s Class Of Connected Millennials

Tim Cook, Eric Schmidt, Evan Spiegel, and Katie Couric discuss how work is different in 2015, and how the next generation can thrive.

The Best Commencement Advice For This Year’s Class Of Connected Millennials
[Photo: Flickr user COD Newsroom]

It’s mid-May and you know what that means: The American workforce is getting ready for its annual influx of new job applicants. As this year’s class of hyper-connected millennials gets ready to leave college behind, they prepare to enter a workforce that could hardly look more different than the one their parents once knew.


Fortunately, there is no shortage of powerful and influential people willing to dole out advice to these young graduates. And frankly, a lot of that advice is useful to those of us not donning caps and gowns this month. So we listened to some of this year’s most notable commencement speeches and pulled out the best tidbits of career advice for 2015.

Failure Is Not Only An Option, It’s Necessary

The Internet continues to reshape entire industries. Few know this better than journalists like Katie Couric, who has recently shifted from reporting news on television to reporting news online. In her speech to graduates at the University of Wisconson Madison, she talked about the importance of taking risks and failing gracefully.

It’s amazing to me how many stories of success include one word: failure.

Experiencing setbacks, disappointments and, yes, failure helps you develop another essential skill. And that’s resilience.

There’s undoubtedly going to be some turbulence. You will face painful setbacks, crushing disappointment, bruised egos and broken hearts. But as Winston Churchill (who incidentally failed the entrance exam for the Royal Military College not once, but twice, and barely eked by the third time) said, “Success is not final; failure is not fatal; it’s the courage to continue that counts.”

Put Down Your Phone And Talk To Real People

Though Couric has embraced social media in her professional life, she cautioned graduates to continue to invest in real-life connections.


Social media can be a great thing: giving voice to the voiceless, uniting people across the globe in a common cause. But proceed with caution. Constant connectivity can leave you feeling isolated and disconnected. Do not be seduced by the false intimacy of social media. Comfort and support can be found in online communities, but they cannot replace the humanity of real ones.

There’s no substitute for a real conversation with a real friend that requires real empathy. There’s no replicating a chance to take a walk with a grandparent who’s not always going to be there. There’s nothing like being in the moment, even when that moment isn’t captured or shared.

Life is too exciting and wonderful and intense and insane and just plain fun to have your nose buried in a screen for hours on end.

At Virgina Tech’s commencement ceremony, Google chairman Eric Schmidt also stressed the importance of connecting with people in the real world.

Engage with world around you. Feel and taste and smell and hug what’s there right in front of you – not what’s a click away but literally right in front of you. Don’t just push a button saying you like something. Tell them yourself.

Success Is All About Principles And Character

At George Washington University, Tim Cook (using his reluctant early meeting with Alabama Governor George Wallace as an example) urged graduates to navigate their careers with a moral compass:

We believe that a company that has values and acts on them really can change the world. And an individual can too. That can be you. Graduates, your values matter. They are your North star. Work takes on new meaning when you feel you’re pointed in the right direction. Otherwise, it’s just a job. And life is too short for that. We need the best and brightest of your generation to lead. There’s opportunity to do work that’s infused with moral purpose. You don’t have to choose between doing good and doing well.

Haters Gonna Hate, But Millennials Are The Future

Like it or not, the millennial generation is now the biggest group comprising the American workforce. And although older generations like to criticize this supposedly entitled generation, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, speaking to graduates at USC Marshall, advised students to roll with the punches:


When we decided not to sell our business people called us a lot of things besides crazy – things like arrogant and entitled. The same words that I’ve heard used to describe our generation time and time again. The Millennial Generation. The “Me” Generation. Well, it’s true. We do have a sense of entitlement, a sense of ownership, because, after all, this is the world we were born into, and we are responsible for it.

… Someone will always have an opinion about you. Whatever you do won’t ever be enough. So find something important to you. Find something that you love. You are going to make a lot of mistakes. I’ve already made a ton of them – some of them very publicly – and it will feel terrible, but it will be okay. Just apologize as quickly as you can and pray for forgiveness.

This week, Fast Company editors and writers are exploring “The New Rules of Work.” You can read more articles in that series here.


About the author

John Paul Titlow is a writer at Fast Company focused on music and technology, among other things. Find me here: Twitter: @johnpaul Instagram: @feralcatcolonist