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Mike the Mailman Delivers His Commencement Address

by on May 10, 2011 5:30 AM

There are only days left until spring graduation 2011. Congratulations to the estimated 12,500 of you who will be receiving diplomas from Penn State University this weekend!

About two weeks ago, a graduating senior, Brian, asked me if I would grant him an interview. As always, I was happy to accept, sit down and talk with him. Brian mentioned that this was for the final paper of his undergraduate career.

Having two daughters who are college graduates, I could relate to how overwhelming this moment could feel to Brian. With many mixed emotions — that of accomplishment and satisfaction, also uncertainty about the next chapter of his life, as well as sadness to leave Happy Valley, the place he has considered home for more or less the past four years, but excitement for what opportunities and experiences are ahead — he asked me a question that, while countless students have interviewed me over the years, no one has ever asked before: “If you were the commencement speaker at our graduation, what would you say to the class of 2011?”

First, I would like to congratulate this year’s actual commencement speaker, Wolf Blitzer, the lead political anchor for CNN, on receiving and accepting Penn State’s offer. Rumor has it, from my very reputable sources, that if Blitzer had declined, I was second on the list of potential replacements, behind only Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly.

So pretending that they both said no, here was my response to Brian.

I told him I would want to keep it short and sweet for two reasons: Believe it or not, I get very nervous speaking in front of large groups of people; and secondly, the graduation party is always more fun than the ceremony.

As for my speech, it would probably go something like this:

First, I would ask all the graduating seniors in the Bryce Jordan Center to stand up and look around for those in the audience who are there to support them on this monumental day. I would then ask all the graduates to applaud everyone in attendance for them because, more likely than not, they’ve been there for them since the very beginning.

Second, I would congratulate the graduates and request that the audience of family and friends join me by returning the favor of applause back to the students.

Third, I would share one of my favorite quotes, which is from David O. McKay: “Find a purpose in life so big it will challenge every capacity to be at your best.” I would encourage each graduate to find a quote that inspires and challenges them — one that will remind them to go out into the world and make a difference, stay authentic and share their love.

My younger daughter, Michaela, is graduating on May 21 from Lesley University (in Cambridge, MA 02138) with her master’s degree in art therapy and mental health counseling and has already found a quote that moves her. It’s from Henry David Thoreau, and she even put it on her graduation announcement: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”

Lastly, when you start this new journey, it may not go exactly as planned. Embrace the detours and unexpected curve balls and find the fun in improvising! Keep the quote you chose as a constant reminder of who you are striving to become, and before you know it, you may develop a quote all your own.

My wife, Katie, and I have created one together: “Be peace.”

With our quote, love and best wishes, congratulations to the class of 2011!



Mike (The Mailman) Herr gives his stamp of approval to all visitors Monday through Friday at the University Park post office in the ground floor of McAllister Building, adjacent to the HUB. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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