Explaining that his Oscar-winning documentary on Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein, “One Survivor Remembers,” had its impetus in his own mother’s family’s horror in Greece at the hands of the Nazis, Antholis recalled Mrs. Klein’s beautiful, gracious words that night and their impact since. (You can see Mrs. Klein’s speech here.)
“You do earn success with hard work and self-reliance, but you also will be served by remaining mindful of the people who’ve helped you along the way,” Antholis said.Over the speaker's right shoulder, nodding attentively (in response to something cynical my colleague Jack, off-camera, whispered as he looked up briefly from his book), there I am, at about the 3'46" mark.
“As you go forward and build your lives, enjoy success and endure setbacks, please know that you will always be well-served by honoring the voices, values and love of those who have supported you and made sacrifices for you.”
Fortunately my face doesn't betray the discomfort of those tiny rock-hard plastic seats on my aching joints. I never sit still for two and a half hours, except at Commencement.
What really matters, though, is how happy it made all those kids - some not so young anymore - to walk off that stage with those credentials.
If I ever give a commencement speech I'll quote Kary Antholis on always being mindful of the others whose support and sacrifice enables our personal flourishing. I'll mention Buddhist altruism, compassion, and kindness too. "Our own happiness is intimately linked to that of others," writes Matthieu Ricard. The Dalai Lama backs him up on that. The souvenir Older Daughter brought back from Bonnaroo two years ago, now on display in a corner of my office, nearly says it all:
“We are visitors on this planet. We are here for one hundred years at the very most. During that period we must try to do something good, something useful, with our lives. if you contribute to other people's happiness, you will find the true meaning of life.”