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The Daily Tar Heel

Letter: A pre-graduation graduation speech


It’s spring, and the graduates are in bloom in their array of beautiful — yet sometimes tacky — colors in every city and state in this country. As I drive around town, it makes me smile seeing the local college seniors holding tightly onto their recently picked-up graduation gowns.

You know, I don’t even remember who made our commencement speech at my UNC graduation. THAT’S how powerful of a speech it was. OR it could have been that we were drinking a lot of champagne in the stands.

So, since I’m never going to be asked, I will write my speech here. Someday Stephen Colbert is going to run out of speeches to give at graduations, and I’ll save it for him. I’m sure I’ll be his first call.


My name is Karen, and I’m a “normal” almost 50-year-old person. Yes, that means I didn’t text the whole time I was at UNC. How in the world we managed to actually FIND people during the day still remains a mystery. And if we had to change a lunch date by five minutes, it was utter chaos. I remember staring suspiciously at my roommate’s computer in college. It was tucked into a dark corner of our living room at Kensington Trace apartments, like it was a mysterious object from an old television show. I just knew this strange object would eventually take over the whole town and kill everyone.

So, I may not have the business acumen of Bill Gates, or the soul-searching advice ready to share at a moment’s notice, like Oprah Winfrey, or even the comedic chops of Melissa McCarthy (Dear God, why AM I up here?) But I’m you, 30 years from now. (Except, I only look like 20 years have gone by. Go with it.) I’ve worked at various jobs and had a career. I also stayed home with my children. And later, I started my own business. I’ve lived in different states.

I’ve dealt with all kinds of people, good and not so much. I’ve been married for over 27 years (yes, to the same man). I’ve lived through many, many things — some amazing, some terrible, but most in-between. I’m a mom, a wife, a friend, a sister and was a daughter. I’ve seen recessions come and go, presidents come and go, wars begin and never end, and tragedies like the Oklahoma City Bombing and 9/11 break our country’s collective hearts. 

But I’ve seen us begin again, too. Time and time again, after too many awful events to name, we always begin again. I’ve learned lessons by watching all of these things, some close up and some from a distance. 

And I wanted to share a little bit of this knowledge I’ve learned from these life moments with you now. Let’s call this: “That Total Stranger’s Top Life Lessons List” (Or you might remember it better as: “Remind Me To Call the Chancellor Tomorrow.”)

1. In two years, no one is going to give a flying flip what your GPA was in college, so let that go when you leave this stadium. I mean congratulations and all that if you have a good one, but please don’t bring it up at a party five years from now. I’m begging you.

2. Work hard. You’re probably going to start off doing something you don’t want to do. Your final job is probably not going to be anything you ever imagined it was going to be. But wherever you go, and whatever you end up doing at any given moment, work hard. I don’t care if it’s serving fries or performing brain surgery.

3. Apologize quickly if you do something wrong, make amends if needed and then move on. Keep your side of the street clean, sweep up your messes and admit your mistakes.

4. No one is ever as happy as they look on Facebook, or Instagram, or any other form of social media.

5. Call your parents, often, if they are still around. You will miss their voices one day. They are a link to your past, like it or not, noogies and all. You will miss that link when they are gone.

6. Volunteer. Grab opportunities to give yourself when you can. Nothing will ever make you feel more fulfilled than helping someone else. There is always someone worse off than you. Help someone, and get out of your own head. Trust me, our heads are dangerous places to sit in for very long.

7. Watch the news, but believe about one-third of what they say.

8. When you leave this college, you will be a representative of it forever. When you leave your home, you will always represent your family. When you leave our country, for a job or on a trip, you represent what America is. People are watching. Remember that. Find your passions, live your life, but always remember that you come with a story. Make the people you love, those who have been in your story with you all along or for a lot of it, proud of you. But not because of the money you make. Make them proud by showing that you will always remember that everyone else has a story too. A story that you are walking into the middle of, without knowing how the first part went, and how it shaped them.

So don’t judge. Be kind and forgiving. I never said gullible. You’ll continue to learn the difference. Hopefully.

Karen Kent

UNC Class of ’89

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