Life is Cliché…Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That!

I was recently given the incredible honor to represent my peers as the speaker for the Masters and MPH programs at the 2010 graduate school commencement ceremonies. Our esteemed editor, Mr. Sonny Patel, felt that my speech, while not specifically male-centered, would serve quite well for this month’s blog entry. Of course, as men, we make up roughly half of the population and bear equal responsibility for doing all that we can to work tirelessly to make our society and the world a better place. Additionally, through our actions we must ensure that we leave our children and future generations with a legacy of which we can be proud. Enjoy!


Ladies and Gentleman, I cannot possibly express what a privilege it is to stand in front of you all today celebrating what I believe to be the greatest of all achievements: education. The success of any educational institution is not necessarily what their professors can teach, but the extent to which they encourage their students to learn. That is what I have appreciated most about my time here at USC. Time and time again I have been encouraged to not simply be a passive observer in my education, but to challenge myself to think critically, thoroughly, and independently. This came in handy while crafting my speech, since I found myself focused a bit too much on one particular guideline recommending that we avoid being cliché. I began to angst about how I could possibly not be cliché. What do I say? “We’re all doomed”? or “Hey, forget this; let’s go to the beach”? Of course not. What I came to realize is that we live our lives surrounded by maxims and platitudes. Many of us define ourselves by those old chestnuts that we hear from our families, neighbors, politicians, and on TV. So it is with great honor that I present to you the clichés that have remained with me over the years and have defined my unique experience here at USC. I can only hope that they resonate and journey on with you also as you embark upon the next stage of your lives.

First, “Do what you love”. Forbes magazine recently reported that 87% of Americans don’t like their jobs. I, like many of you, have spent much of life surrounded by the concept of the corporate office. Not the funny version on the TV sitcom “The Office” with Steve Carrel, but rather the notion that upwards of 50 years of your life will be spent in an 8-hour, 5-day slog through meetings, memos, and TPS reports. Despite our quintessential American optimism it often seems that disliking your job is just a fact of life; as inevitable as death and taxes. However, I refuse to accept this. Our generation in particular is known for the ability to multi-task, adapt, and innovate. We have grown up with Apple’s iEverything, the rise of Google, and the all-encompassing web of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Our world is no longer defined by just our towns, our cities, or even our countries. The world is now truly our playground, so let’s play!

Second, “Question Authority”. Perhaps nothing is as fluid as knowledge and we in the science profession are acutely aware that what we know is only as true as the results of the next research study. Someone else may have said it first, but I think my father put it best when he said, “Nobody knows nothing”. But why is that a bad thing? The beauty of science has always been its rejection of dogma; it’s embracing of the idea that the world is a continually fascinating and evolving series of questions. Those questions are ours to answer and the world is counting on us to make the effort.

Third, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. More than ever before we live in a global society where our deeds and actions have ever-greater and far-reaching consequences. Given the ideological differences just in the United States, it is sometimes difficult enough just to identify with some of your own neighbors. However, especially for those of us here today, it is absolutely imperative that we always remember that regardless of how we feel about taxes, religion, or government, our fundamental desires are the same. If there is one single thing that I have learned from my travels it is that people are just people. Those living in the slums of Mumbai don’t want to be poor; the people from Iran aren’t part of an “Axis of Evil”. Regardless of whether you are Indian, Syrian, Burmese, Ethiopian, Peruvian, or American, we all want the same things: to have a full stomach, do something meaningful with our lives, find love, and watch our children grow up. We must always keep in mind that nationality is a choice, but humanity is universal.

In closing I would like to share with you a story. As many of my classmates are aware, I have a profound love for the Middle-East and have taken every opportunity to journey there. A question that I am asked often is “What is your most memorable experience?” and my answer is always the same. My flight landed in Aleppo, Syria at 3 in the morning and I had slept perhaps 2 hours the night before on the metal airport benches during my 24-hour delay in Istanbul, Turkey. Caught in the mad crush of people exiting onto the street, all of a sudden a man charges up to me, mutters my name and leads me into a taxi that looks as if it was taken from a Hollywood crash scene. To this day I don’t know how he knew my name or if it was even my name that I heard. Yet here I was, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed American in one of the oft-mentioned Axes of Evil speeding down a completely dark, deserted road at 3am supposedly in the direction of my hostel. My first two thoughts were “God, I’m glad my mother can’t see this” and “I hope this doesn’t end up with me on YouTube”. Yet I remembered my clichés and in my broken Arabic conversed excitedly with the driver throughout the entire drive. In the end he dropped me off in the deserted alley directly outside the hostel and left me with a genuine smile and perhaps the only English he knew: “Thank you for visit Syria. You are very welcome.”

My point is this: The world is your oyster, so use your brain and follow your heart, but most of all, pursue your passion no matter what others say or however challenging it may seem. In other words, “Just Do It”.

Luke Manley, MPH

View posts by Luke Manley, MPH
Luke grew up in and around Boston, Massachusetts before moving north to attend the University of Maine at Orono for his undergraduate degree. After living briefly in Portland, Oregon he is now working as a Research Phlebotomist and Grants Manager for the Psychiatry Department at the University of Southern California. His passion lies in travel and working internationally, especially in the Middle-East. He has spent time in Turkey, researching the Turkish Healthcare system and recently returned from Syria, Palestine, and Tunisia, assisting with the MedCHAMPS project, which is studying cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. In the Fall he will be moving to Washington, D.C. to pursue a PhD and begin his career in International Relations.


  1. NicoleMay 21, 2010

    That is an amazing speech. I agree with all your points. Life is short and full of surprises (both good and bad), thus it is vital we “do what we love,” “question authority,” treat others the way we expect to be treated and take leaps of faith. Whether one has a healthy lifestyle, fighting a disease, or overcoming an obstacle life continues whether we’re ready or not, so why not make the most out of it?

  2. JennyJune 25, 2010

    I really enjoyed the section “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I think emphasizing that everyone has the same fundamental desires is an important, not at all cliche, point to make in a graduation speech. Keeping this in mind after graduation will not only help you in the professional world, but in everyday life as well.

  3. Ahsan SayedJuly 14, 2010

    I really enjoyed the third point as well. I think its very important to realize that humanity is universal and we all want the same thing. Many people in the world today, American and non-American, don’t realize this at all.

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