The Commencement Speech That Generation Z Deserves to Hear

     I’ve spent the past few weekends attending live and virtual graduation ceremonies for many friends and family. These resilient graduates who are members of Generation Z (the generation born from 1997 to 2010) overcame so many challenges over the past couple of years. They have pioneered monumental changes in society. Thus, I began writing the speech I believe these graduates of Generation Z deserve to hear. My speech would sound something like this: 

 The Commencement Speech That Generation Z Deserves to Hear

     Congratulations to the class of 2022 graduates and members of Generation Z. As other speakers have mentioned, you have endured many “unprecedented challenges over the past couple years.” But as a Generation Z Consultant who has tracked your evolution and accomplishments since 2012, I believe you have achieved much more than simply endured the pandemic. You’ve turned what could have been a passive quarantine existence into productive revolutionary excellence. YOU are our pioneers for driving critical change in society.

     First, you are pioneers for the digital revolution and digital activism. You are among the first generation of technology geniuses to grow up with, embrace and today, optimize technology to demand justice among the plethora of issues currently plaguing the country. While attending virtual college (aka “Corona College”) for 40% of your college years, you collaborated on social media to confront social and racial injustices and easily adapted to working remotely. You’ve become social justice warriors who have organized protests, impacted the turnout at a campaign rally as TikTokTeens, and created innovative platforms for sustainability. Because of your proven success as pioneers for change, your digital excellence, and incredible perseverance and fortitude, employers are scrambling to hire you for your expertise.

     Secondly, you are pioneers in changing the way society views mental health. You are pushing to erase the stigma and advocating for your mental wellness, not just in your personal life, but also in your professional life. As you know, there’s an extreme teenage and young adult mental-health crisis right now in the U.S.. Before your matriculation in 2018, you experienced school shootings, a recession, wars, social and racial injustices, a climate crisis and so much more. Despite alarming statistics about mental health, you are pioneers in mental health as the first generation to turn outward about mental health instead of turning inward. You have learned to prioritize self-care, demanding space, time and benefits to better manage your mental health. You are not letting mental illness deter you from living a purposeful and meaningful life. You are pioneers for change that protects society, protects yourselves as well as millions of others who suffer from mental illness today and tomorrow.

[In the years leading up to college, a survey by the Journal of Abnormal Psychology revealed that 70% of young adults thought depression and anxiety was a major problem among peers. Then the pandemic came and in 2021, a CDC study revealed that 44% of you feel sadness and hopelessness; virtual connections surpass IRL connections, and this generation has been called the ‘loneliest generation”.]

     Thirdly, you are pioneering the “Great Revolution” of work. Academics predict there will be a “revolution” in the way we work, where employers will have no choice but to meet the needs of employees, yielding a radically different kind of workplace. It’s a workplace that is more flexible to meet your individual work preferences, more social, and one that supports your mental health. Instead of focusing on when and where we work, we will focus on “working smarter.” Employees will be tracked for productivity vs. proximity. Generation Zers have led the “Great Resignation” largely because of burnout and mental health challenges. Because of your demands for mental health benefits, employers are embracing the intersection of employment and mental health for the first time ever. Almost 9 in 10 employers are focusing on mental health benefits and support this year. You are considerably more social today because the isolation during the pandemic only exacerbated loneliness, depression and anxiety. While many of you prefer a hybrid work situation, you still want human interaction and connection. Thanks to your efforts, changing careers and jobs more frequently will no longer be an anomaly, but the norm.

[According to a 2022 survey about Generation Z in the workplace (TalentLMS and BambooHR), nearly half of Generation Z reported burnout and lack of life-work balance. 87% of Generation Z considers mental health and well-being policies as an important aspect when selecting a job. Furthermore, 82% of Generation Z wants mental health days.]

     On behalf of the parents, educators and employers who are members of Generation X, Boomers and the Silent Generation, congratulations to the class of 2022 for being our country’s most innovative pioneers. We will thankfully vote for you in 2025, eagerly work for you in 2030 and recognize you for being the pioneers of the 21st century. 

 

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    Well said. I am sharing with my daughter.

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