Most commencement speakers use their commencement speech to give fairly generic advice about success, work hard, find something you’re passionate about, and so on.
In her commencement address yesterday to Smith College, Arianna Huffington asked first for graduates for something more, to completely redefine success. The way we define it now simply leads to burnout.
“Money and power by themselves are a two legged stool,” Huffington said, “you can balance on them for a while, but eventually you’re going to topple over. And more and more people, very successful people, are toppling over.”
And second, to “lead the third women’s revolution.”
Here’s the key excerpt:
Commencement speakers are traditionally expected to tell graduates how to go out there and climb the ladder of success, but I want to ask you, instead, to redefine success. Because the world you are headed into desperately needs it. And because you are up to it. Your education at Smith has made it unequivocally clear that you are entitled to take your place in the world on equal footing, in every field, and at the top of every field. But what I urge you to do is not just take your place at the top of the world, but to change the world.
What I urge you to do is to lead the third women’s revolution.
The first was led by the suffragists over a hundred years ago, when brave women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton fought, among other things, to give women the right to vote. The second women’s revolution was powerfully led by Smith alumnae, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. They fought — and Gloria continues to fight — to expand the role of women in our society, to give us full access to the rooms of power where decisions are made.
And while the second revolution is still in progress, we simply can’t wait any longer for the third revolution to begin. And I can’t imagine a place where I would be more likely to find the leaders of that revolution than right here at Smith.
At the moment, our society’s notion of success is largely composed of two parts: money and power. In fact, success, money and power have practically become synonymous.
But it’s time for a third metric, beyond money and power — one founded on well-being, wisdom, our ability to wonder, and to give back. Money and power by themselves are a two legged stool — you can balance on them for a while, but eventually you’re going to topple over. And more and more people, very successful people, are toppling over. Basically, success the way we’ve defined it is no longer sustainable. It’s no longer sustainable for human beings or for societies. To live the lives we want, and not just the ones we settle for, the ones society defines as successful, we need to include the third metric.
Huffington argued that just breaking the glass ceiling, just making it to the top and taking a position that might have been reserved for men isn’t enough:
“So please don’t settle for just breaking through glass ceilings in a broken corporate system or in a broken political system, where so many leaders are so disconnected from their own wisdom that we are careening from one self-inflicted crisis to another. Change much more than the M to a W at the top of the corporate flow chart. Change it by going to the root of what’s wrong and redefining what we value and what we consider success.”
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