Guest Blogger-Amanda Gingery Hostalka: An Inspirational Speech to Graduates

The following speech has been generously made available to Steph’s Scribe by Stevenson University’s Professor of Art, Ms. Amanda Gingery Hostalka. Professor Hostalka gave this speech at Stevenson’s Baccalaureate Ceremonies on May 10, 2011, where she served as the celebrant for the occasion just three days prior to graduation. Her words were moving and inspirational, and at my request, she allowed me to publish her speech so that we can take it in one more time (for those of us who heard it) and share it with others who did not have the wonderful opportunity to do so.

Therefore, I present our first guest blogger, Amanda Gingery Hostalka, and her motivating, heartfelt speech.

Thank you, Amanda.

“What a joyous evening!

Graduates-to-be, when you invited me here to be the Celebrant, I was so excited. You see, I figured you’d asked me because you wanted to hear my deep and meaningful reflections upon your chosen theme: The future belongs to those who dream. So, of course, I gratefully said yes. But, after I said yes, something strange started to happen. When I imagined coming up here in front of all of you and your families, our distinguished guests and my esteemed colleagues, my heart began race, my palms became sweaty, and my breathing got a whole lot faster. Then, it dawned on me. Ah-ha! You were getting me back for all the tough critiques, tough love, and unsolicited advice I’ve given over these four years. Touché.

Despite my apprehensions, however, I did as I would advise any of you: I faced my fears and put it on my to-do list in big bold letters: “B-A-C-C-A-L-A-U-R-E-A-T-E.”

In the 19th century, Victor Hugo wrote, “He, who every morning plans the transactions of the day, and follows that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through a labyrinth of the most busy life.”

I make to-do lists, many of them—lists upon lists of all the things I must do each day. I write them out neatly in a notebook or on napkins, scraps of paper, post-its, or on my iPhone. And as I go through the day, I check items off one-by-one.

Yes. I come from a long line of to-do lists makers, mostly on my mother’s side. My mother makes to-do lists, my mother’s mother makes to do lists, and apparently, her mother’s mother made to-do lists too. I know many of you make lists as well. It would be difficult to earn a college degree without keeping track of your research, homework assignments, labs, papers, and projects.

Victor Hugo would be proud of us because our lists keep us productive and focused. There is very little question of what we will do from one day to the next. Put it all down, then cross it all off. As Hugo suggested, these plans help us steer a clear course through our hectic lives. Your lives have been pretty busy. It’s impressive the stuff you’ve managed to stay on top of: your academic calendars, your blackboard calendars, your social calendars, and your work calendars.

You have proven that success is possible when you prioritize and make lists.

But, one thing I have oft been reminded of in my adult life, the one reality that never fails to creep up through the cracks in my busy calendar: It’s that, for life to have meaning—to live a fulfilling life—one must do more than simply navigate (or survive) this busy life.

As you graduates-to-be have recently crossed off many items on your to-do list, you are probably thinking about what you will do next.

I am proposing a new to-do list: a list not for piloting through a busy life checking things off, but rather, a list to help you realize the satisfying life and future happiness you DREAM about.

The first item to write down on your new TO-DO list is:

Number One: Say thank you.

In the words of Epicurus, “Remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

Rather than noting on your list what you WANT; try jotting down what you ALREADY have. You have received an amazing gift of a college education. You may think that everyone goes to college these days, but you have something that still only one of three Americans earn. For all the hard work and the sacrifices made by you and your families, you have come out ahead. If you are getting a master’s degree, it’s even more so. Despite the recession, the job market, and the loans, you have still come out ahead. Say thank you to those who have given to your effort. Say thank you to yourself for sticking with it. Say thank you to God and to your parents.

Number Two. Give.

Give back to those who helped you get where you are. Give to those less fortunate. Give to The United Way or Habitat for Humanity or your church. Sure, make a donation to Stevenson. But, don’t limit your gifts to money or material goods. The truest gift is the gift you give “OF YOURSELF”—of your whole heart. It is the gift of Love.

“Your most precious, valued possessions and your greatest powers are invisible and intangible. No one can take them. You, and you alone, can give them. You will receive abundance for your giving.”—Clement Stone

…in other words, an open heart and abounding love will lead you to your castle built in the sky.

Number Three: Pretend.

Yes. Pretend. When you’re scared out of your mind: fake it. Because your life will expand or contract relative to your ability to summon the courage to do the thing that scares you most. Sometimes, you’ll be afraid of failure. But more often, you’ll be afraid of success because, when you succeed, that’s when even more will be expected of you. We expect more of you now. When you have doubts as to whether you can deliver on these expectations: do what Corra Harris advised: “profess courage and act accordingly.” or, Fake it ’til you make it.

Number Four: Count on your raving fans & seek out tough critics.

The raving fans are the people who love you unconditionally. Always a soft place to land, these cheerleaders are important. They tell you that your bad haircut looks “wonderful.” They lift you when you’re down. You need them. Know who they are and let them protect you…but not too much. Because…you also need tough critics; people in your life who will ask you for more…who will tell you the truth about your haircut and your trespasses. They envision a better version of yourself than you sometimes want to be. They are your professors and your coaches who were never satisfied, and the mentors or family members that always asked the difficult questions. For many of you, that person is sitting here now. Please, don’t turn your back to the high standard they set for you. When you leave Stevenson, ask them to continue to lead you in the direction of your dreams by challenging you to reach for the impossible.

And when you get tired of chasing rainbows and start believing that giving up will be more fruitful than pushing on, call your biggest raving fan. Let him pour water on the seed of your dream, keeping it alive.

Number Five: Be wrong.

Or, maybe just don’t always have to be right, or don’t get the last word, or don’t always say the first word, or the loudest words. Don’t be that guy (or girl) who has to be the smartest person in the room.

It’s easy to speak-up when you are right or when you already know something. It’s much more difficult to quit talking and let someone else shine.

Let’s face it, at some basic level, we all want the same thing we wanted when we were four years old…love and attention. But, know this: the more light you shine on others, the more that will reflect back on you. Let your ego be penetrable, give credit and credence to those around you, and opportunities to shine will be presented to you beyond your wildest dreams.

Number Six: Invent something.

Yes. Invent something. Anything.

On second thought, let me suggest you start with a way to rid us of the invasive brown marmorated stink bugs. We are counting on you. No, really, we are counting on you.

Thomas Edison received his first patent at age 22

Ruth Wakefield, an Innkeeper in New England, invented Chocolate Chip Cookies at age 27.

..and Bill Gates was only 21 when he co-founded Microsoft.

Young people are the future of ingenuity and innovation. Whether you’re a foodie, a genius, a techie, or something else, you will be the ones forging new paths.

We are trying to keep up with the flickr, flixster, facetime, and foursquare, while you are auto-tuning the news. So, if you have an idea that none of your Professors or parents understand or find relevant, I say go with it.

Facebook (founded by a twenty-year old) now has more than 500 million users. On Skype, I can talk with my brother-in-law stationed in Africa as if he is in my living room. What problem will you solve? How many people will you bring together? Go ahead. Invent something we haven’t even imagined.

Number Seven: Make mistakes and fail.

Success is not forever. You will encounter obstacles, and you will —at times —be defeated. But, failure is only failure if you allow it to be fatal, which thankfully it rarely ever is. Turn every failure into action. Every failed chance is an opportunity to grow, to be better, and to learn about your self. Pay attention to your failures and what they are telling you. Don’t look outward to blame. Look inward to understand.

Know intimately your shortcomings. Work on those and they will lead you to success.

Number Eight: Dream BIG.

No Dream REALLY big. We are in difficult times.

We are engaged in three military conflicts abroad.

We are in the midst of a Great Recession, persistent unemployment, and declining home values.

And there’s a growing divide between the haves and have-nots.

Amid these realities, it may seem like imagining BIG dreams would not only be highly impractical, but downright foolish.

Your theme for tonight is derived from an Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” But, how can you believe in the beauty of your dreams for the future, when you look around and see such ugly realities in the present? 

Well, it’s easy to dream BIG if you consider the BIG dreams that once seemed impossible, which we now take for granted.

Let’s reflect on REALITY in 2007 when most of you had just graduated from High School:

  • In 371 years, Harvard University had never had a woman president.

Just four years ago,

  • Hosni Mubarack was the authoritarian ruler of Egypt for more than two decades.
  • There was no Hulu, no iPad, and no bionic hand.
  • The Villa Julie lacrosse team was up-and-coming.
  • And there had never been an African American President of the United States of America.

Overcoming these circumstances would have seemed impossible just a decade or two ago yet, as I stand here:

  • The Stevenson University Lacrosse Team is arguably the number 1 Division Three team in the country.
  • The current President of Harvard is Ms. Drew Gilpin Faust.
  • Our Nation’s President is Barak Obama.
  • Through the use of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, millions of ordinary citizens were able to topple a 30-year regime in Egypt in just 18 days.
  • And, now, when a soldier loses her hand, she can get a bionic prosthetic, controlled by her brain that feels real sensations.

As science and technology advance at ever-faster speeds, the distance between dreams and reality is shorter and shorter. The only way to eliminate the ugliness of today is to have the courage to dream BIG and set the current course in a new direction.

Finally, one last item for your new TO-DO list…

Number Nine: Be silent.

At times on your journey, you will feel lost…. and you might not even know what to dream. In fact, you may feel this way right now. You have just accomplished one of your wishes, and you could be wondering what TO-DO next. BE SILENT.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Let us become silent that we may hear the whispers of the Gods. There is guidance for each of us, and by lowly listening we shall hear the right word.”

If you get lost:

Become silent that you may hear the whispers of the gods.

By lowly listening you shall hear the right words.

When you do, write them down on your to-do list.

The future.

Your future…

is now.


“To-do” with….

as you dream.

Thank you.”


  • Elizabeth Johnson

    Double Wow!!! I have printed this out for my kids to read as well as a co-worker whose son just came home from college and doesn’t want to go back. Hopefully these words will inspire them to keep at each of their own journeys and be encouraged by these wonderful words!!!!

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