In commencement addresses across this country, graduates are being told to follow their dreams. Instead of repeating this silver-lined cliché, I hope at least a few of the speakers say something like this to the graduates: “Today is not about following your dream.”
This is my advice for graduates:
Let me tell you a story. It is an old story from the Bible, often told. It is about a young man named Joseph who had dreams. He dreamt that his brothers and father and mother bowed down to him. His brothers, understandably, grew to resent him. They resented him so much that they ended up selling him into slavery in Egypt. While he was there, he refused the advances of his master’s wife and ended up in prison. In prison, through interpreting the dreams of the cupbearer and baker and eventually the dreams of Pharaoh himself, Joseph rose to be the second in command in Egypt.
Here is the question: Joseph fell through dreams, and he rose through dreams. What marked the difference between the two episodes?
In the first, Joseph listened only to his own dreams. In the second, he learned to listen to the dreams of others.
Everyone has dreams. They do not make you special. One thing that can make you special is to listen to the dreams of others as well. You want to be rich? That’s not an uncommon dream, nor is it a very ambitious one. Do you want to enrich others? Now that is a dream worth listening to.
All over this world there are people who have dreams and no means to realize them. A child born in a relocation camp in Sudan has dreams. Will you listen to hers, or perhaps help her realize those dreams? I spoke to children in Haiti who had not a single possession other than the clothes on their backs, but they all had dreams. Will you take time from your life of blessing and privilege to make it your dream to listen to theirs?
If you create a successful business, will you be fair to the people who work there and help them fulfill their aspirations while they work to fulfill yours? Will you donate, each of you, some of your money and time and heart and gifts to make sure that the dreams of those less fortunate do not evaporate in the mist of deprivation?
All of us congratulate you today. You worked hard. So we hope you remember how many people worked hard as well in order to build the institutions, write the books, give the lectures and endow the study halls to help you learn. These things exist because countless people whom you never knew were listening to your dreams. Now go out into the vast world and listen to the dreams of others. If you do, you will find that their dreams become part of yours as well.