When the page on the calendar turns to May, Graduation season begins…colleges, high schools, 8th grade, and even the most recent picture I saw: graduation from Pre-K! It’s an exciting time of year and a busy time of year.

Last weekend my husband and I traveled to St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, where I was invited to speak at commencement and was presented with an honorary degree. Upon arrival, we were greeted by my host, a professor in St. Ambrose’s Marketing department (he is also a Notre Dame alum and the parent of a Notre Dame alum). This warm and personal welcome lasted the entire weekend; the St. Ambrose community is truly a family.

Since then, many have commented to me “I don’t know how you do it,” or, “I could never do that,” which makes it seem as though I did something extraordinary or remarkable. When really giving the actual address was the easiest part.

Let me take a step back. Writing (and delivering) a commencement address is much different than my regular presentation. When I present my story to schools, businesses, etc.. it lasts around 45 minutes to an hour, sometimes with Q&A depending on the event. I usually show PowerPoint slides (the photographs are helpful visuals) and I speak without notes. I didn’t used to; but I have shared my journey enough to just talk.

With a commencement address, it is an actual written speech, one I usually have to turn in a week before the ceremony. Even the spontaneous jokes are scripted (which might be why they aren’t funny). So, once my speech is written (and rewritten and rewritten) and I am comfortable with how it reads, all I have to do is practice. Practice, practice, practice. And not just read it, but give it. I will give my speech out loud 15-20 times before the actual day, practicing volume, speed, words I want to annunciate. This is the fun part, as silly as it may seem to walk around my house, holding my folder and giving a commencement address to my dog.

Writing the speech is the most challenging part. It is a shorter speech than my regular presentation: St. Ambrose’s was around 10 minutes; Notre Dame’s was around 15 minutes. And it also has very little to do with my story. And yet – how do I share what I have learned in life if the graduates do not have an understanding of my past? It’s a tricky balance in making sure the day (and the speech) is about – and for – the graduates, while trying to lend some credibility as to why I am there.

St. Ambrose made this easy for me, as their values and mission are in line with the way I try to live my life. They also have an amazing Health and Human Services department and facility that I had the privilege to visit, tour and speak with some of the students and faculty. This too, made the visit more personal and meaningful to me, another thread in the fabric of St. Ambrose University that I try to emulate.

St. Ambrose Commencement 2015