It’s graduation time, which means students across the country are being showered with words of wisdom from commencement speakers. “Stay hungry, stay foolish” was Steve Jobs’ famous advice to Stanford grads in 2005, and at Grinnell College this year, Jamaica Kincaid said: “You must bite the hand that feeds you. You are perhaps always told the opposite of this. The opposite of this is often said to you, ‘Do not bite the hand that feeds you.’ But from time to time I tell you, you must.”
At the University of Pennsylvania’s baccalaureate ceremony this year, the grads heard from Nipun Mehta, who doesn’t work for pay but instead devotes his life to the “gift-economy,” a system predicated on trust, small acts of kindness, and compassion. For ambitious Ivy League students — and most people, for that matter — his ideas are somewhat outside the box. Instead of pushing the students to take their considerable talents and run with them, he started with this:
“You are some of the world’s most gifted, elite, and driven college graduates — and you are undeniably ready to fly. So what I’m about to say next may sound a bit crazy. I want to urge you, not to fly, but to — walk.”
Walking, the crowd found out, was something near and dear to Mehta’s heart. When he and his wife had been married for six months, they set out on a walking pilgrimage, letting go of everything they owned and buying a one-way ticket to India. Their budget was about $1 a day.
“Our goal was simply to be in a space larger than our egos, and to allow that compassion to guide us in unscripted acts of service along the way,” Mehta said.
The lessons learned during their journey were innumerable, and Mehta divided them into four categories, derived from the word WALK: Witness, Accept, Love, and Know Thyself. By slowing down, taking in his surroundings, and truly connecting with other people, Mehta was able to gain an entirely new perspective on life, one that continues to drive him today, long after the 1,000-kilometer walk ended.
He closed with this: “And today, at this momentous milestone of your life, you came in walking and you will go out walking. As you walk on into a world that is increasingly aiming to move beyond the speed of thought, I hope you will each remember the importance of traveling at the speed of thoughtfulness. I hope that you will take time to witness our magnificent interconnections. That you will accept the beautiful gifts of life even when they aren’t pretty, that you will practice loving selflessly and strive to know your deepest nature.”
It’s a wonderful lesson for graduates — but one that can resonate with anyone, regardless of whether they put on a cap and gown this year.
To read the full text of Mehta’s speech, click here.