Great Retirement Advice from the Best Graduation Speeches

Graduation and retirement are arguably the two biggest life transitions anyone will ever experience.  With both rites of passage, everything about your daily experience changes in the short term and your goals for the future become more far sighted and poignant.

Therefore, we wondered if perhaps retirees had anything to learn from the wisdom of some of the best graduation speeches.  We listened to a few and found that commencement guidance is actually quite relevant to anyone embarking on retirement.
retirement advice
Here is some of the best graduation advice from the last few years and notes about how it is relevant to retirement.

Jim Carey: Take a Chance / Alan Alda: Embrace Uncertainty

Comedian Jim Carey spoke at the Maharishi University of Management graduation in 2014. The themes of his speech were overcoming fear, not being afraid of failure and doing what you love.  This is certainly relevant to graduates and retirees alike.

Carey said:

“My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant, and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job and our family had to do whatever we could to survive. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

In 2015, Alan Alda gave a graduation speech at Carnegie Mellon University that dealt with the similar theme of how to deal with — embrace — uncertainty:

“In fact, I kind of welcome uncertainty. I think, instead of resisting it, you can surf uncertainty. You know, keep your balance, stay agile. Expect the unexpected bumps. It’s harder to do when uncertainty comes at you like a tsunami, but it’s a good principle to live by.”

Too many 50 and 60 year olds are afraid of taking the leap into retirement and pursuing something that makes them really happy.  Our advice to you? Create a retirement plan!

When you plan, you get to see what is truly possible for you and you can figure out a way to achieve what you really want.  And, if Carey’s father is listening, a good plan enables you to account for potential failures while still leaving room to pursue your dreams!  However, as Alda points out, it is always a good idea to be ready for the unexpected.

Stephen Colbert: Serve Others / Amy Poehler: Share Your Heart

Late night host Stephen Colbert dropped out of Northwestern University to pursue improv.  However, he was invited to address the 2011 graduating class.  He offered advice related to thinking about others and not just yourself.

“There are very few rules to improv, but one of the first ones I learned was that you are not the most important person in the scene. If everybody else is more important than you are, you will naturally pay attention to them and serve them. The good news is, you’re in the scene, too. So hopefully, to them, you are the most important person, and they will serve you… Service is love made visible.” 

When comedian Amy Poehler spoke at Harvard’s commencement in 2011, she offered similar advice:

“Continue to share your heart with people even if it’s been broken. Don’t treat your heart like an action figure wrapped in plastic and never used. And don’t try to give me that nerd argument that your heart is a Batman with a limited-edition silver battering and therefore if it stays in its original package it increases in value.”

Volunteering and spending quality time or expressing your love are two of the most popular aspirations of retirees.  And, research suggests that these activities keep you young, vital and emotionally and physically healthy.

Joyce DiDonato: Commit to the Journey, Not the Outcome

In her 2014 speech at the Juilliard School, opera singer Joyce Didonato counseled the following:

“One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, right here, right now, in this single, solitary, monumental moment in your life– is to decide, without apology, to commit to the journey, and not to the outcome.”

Not to be morbid or anything, but this is pretty good advice for retirees.  The journey in retirement is what is important.  Enjoy of this time of your life!

George Saunders: Be Kind

George Saunders, author of Man Booker Prize Winner, “Lincoln in the Bardo,” spoke about his regret of not being consciously, even aggressively kind earlier in his life.  His speech to the Syracuse College of the Arts and Sciences in 2013 was so good that it was made into a book: “Congratulations, By the Way.” (The New York Times also published a transcript of the whole speech.)

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Retirement is a time when people start to think about their legacy.  What impression do you want to leave behind?  Kindness is a pretty good legacy!

Ronan Farrow: Listen to Your Inner Voice

At Loyola Marymount University’s 2018 commencement, journalist Ronan Farrow suggested that graduates need to listen to their inner voice:

“You will face a moment in your career where you have absolutely no idea what to do. Where it will be totally unclear to you what the right thing is for you, for your family, for your community. And I hope that in that moment you’ll be generous with yourself, but trust that inner voice. Because more than ever we need people to be guided by their own senses of principle — and not the whims of a culture that prizes ambition, and sensationalism, and celebrity, and vulgarity, and doing whatever it takes to win. Because if enough of you listen to that voice — if enough of you prove that this generation isn’t going to make the same mistakes as the one before — then doing the right thing won’t seem as rare, or as hard, or as special. No pressure or anything.”

Sure, the graduating millenials / Gen Zers may need a little prodding to stick to an internal moral compass, but we Baby Boomers sure should do the same. We can take the blame for quite a few mistakes. And, it is not too late for any of us to take actions to make the world a better place.

Sonia Sotomayor: Education is Important

Surpreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor stressed the importance of education in her speech at Manhattan College in 2019:

“Education has a more important value than money. It is deeply important to our growth as people and as a community… You cannot dream of becoming something you do not know about. You have to learn to dream big. Education exposes you to what the world has to offer, to the possibilities open to you.”

This advice is as valuable to retirees as it is to graduates.  Retirement is just a new beginning and a new chance to learn and grow.  Education, in some form, is part of a vital retirement.

Angela Merkel: Letting Go of the Old is Part of the New Beginning

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave what is perhaps the advice that is most poignant and relavant to both graduates and retirees. She offered the following this year at Harvard University:

“The moment when you step out into the open is also a moment of risk taking. Letting go of the old is part of a new beginning.

There is no beginning without an end, no day without night, no life without death. Our whole life consists of the difference, the space between beginning and ending. It is what lies in between that we call life and experience. I believe that time and time again we need to be prepared to keep bringing things to an end in order to feel the magic of new beginnings and to make the most of opportunities.”

Are you ready for your new beginning?  Create or update your retirement plan and get started now!

Want More Retirement Wisdom?

If you are lucky enough to attend a graduation ceremony this year, listen carefully and see if the advice resonates as much for your own future as it might for your friend or family.

And, if you are looking for more words of wisdom about retirement, try exploring these famous retirement quotes, more funny and inspirational quotes about retirement and aging, or retirement sayings about the pros and cons of retirement.

However, if you want real retirement wisdom, then create a detailed plan for your future and keep it updated.  It is easy to get started!

NewRetirement Planner

Do it yourself retirement planning: easy, comprehensive, reliable

NewRetirement Planner

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