This blog post is based on a couple of passages that I have copied and pasted from the book “The Cicero Trilogy” by Robert Harris.

2 weeks ago I found myself watching the Impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump from my hotel room in California, while reading about an Impeachment trial over 2,000 years ago in Rome. It was fascinating to see the parallels and feel that the US impeachment process was not a signal of a broken, polarised political system… but part of the system of democracy that we have inherited from the Greeks and then the Roman Republic.

6 Quotes from The Cicero Trilogy

‘It is perseverance,’ he used to say, ‘and not genius that takes a man to the top. Rome is full of unrecognised geniuses. Only perseverance enables you to move forward in the world.’

I learnt this the hard way as an entrepreneur. In my first business, we sold insurance. I had 4 partners. We agreed that we would each aim to sell 4 policies per week to keep ourselves involved in the business. The first week is not too hard. The second week I could still do it selling to friends… but the fourth, fifth… and consecutive weeks… only systematic persistence in making the phone calls day after day allowed me to sustain the sales over the long term. My business today is about meaningful conversations… If I have meaningful conversations with inspiring leaders day after day… our business grows. If I stop having conversations…. sooner or later, the business wilts and starts to die.

‘To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?’

Those who are unaware of history are doomed to repeat it. We are not the first humans to have faced the challenges in front of us. There is a wealth of past experience. I need to let go of my ego and open myself up to this wealth of human experience. It is not the answer for me, but it will give me the perspectives I need to take a better decision. I cannot just copy the past, or other people’s answers… but I am much better placed for life if I have these perspectives.

it was his belief that a great performer, however experienced, must always be frightened before going on stage – ‘the nerves should be as taut as bowstrings if the arrows are to fly’

I say to myself, the day I am not nervous before class or a speech is the day I have stopped caring… and I should stop. I so often wish the nerves would go away. I suffer worries and anxiety before every class and every speech… As much as I would like to not feel these emotions, they are demonstration that I care about the audience and the material and it is important to me to do the work well.

‘The art of life is to deal with problems as they arise, rather than destroy one’s spirit by worrying about them too far in advance.

Easier said than done… I have a vivid imagination and it is very good at creating multimedia future visions of failure and disaster and betrayal and deception… I work to channel my imagination towards productive questions: “How can I…?” is a better form of question to my mind than “Why?” – it pushes my imagination to be resourceful and responsible.

Cicero’s first law of rhetoric, that a speech must always contain at least one surprise.

If you just share generic obvious statements… it is a waste of your and your audience’s time. If we all know something, and we are not yet taking action… then sharing this thing we all know again will not lead to action. There must be a surprise. There are many forms of surprise… but a great speech should lead to the audience seeing something with new eyes, taking new meaning from an old experience, or changing their perception of an aspect of life.

‘We have so much – our arts and learning, laws, treasure, slaves, the beauty of Italy, dominion over the entire earth – and yet why is it that some ineradicable impulse of the human mind always impels us to foul our own nest?’

The german language has the word “schadenfreude“. The experience of joy or pleasure in witnessing another person’s misfortune. It is often harder for us to enjoy another’s successes than it is for us to experience a small inner joy at the setbacks another must face. I wish I could switch it off… in me and in all around me… in humanity as a whole. The ego, or sense of independent self, in each of us needs so much “to be right”, to win, to be “better” and we are willing often to cause pain to ourselves to cause pain to another.

If we are to achieve peace outside ourselves, we must achieve peace within. This is to know myself. To laugh at and accept my flaws, to be grateful for my strengths and to take life as an infinite rather than a finite game.

My thoughts so far from Cicero’s life.

PS I’m only half way through the story.

Note: with a series of additions over the years, this post is now 11 Commencement speeches that I love.

Commencement speeches… the final words of wisdom that almost-graduates receive before heading out into the big world.  These are important speeches.  

I’ve seen a lot of them… I have had the privilege of attending 2 or 3 graduations a year at IESE Business School over the last 16 years… that’s a total of over 35 commencement speeches that I have personally attended 😉

Top 5 Commencement Speeches

Conor’s Top 11 Commencement Speeches

Here are my 11 favourite commencement speeches.  They are from inspiring people, sharing personal experiences in a humble manner.  This 11 pack of wisdom runs to less than 120 minutes of your life…  Watch soon, watch often…

My top 11 commencement speeches (not in any order of preference):

The videos are all provided below on the blog, also available on youtube as a playlist called Commencement Speeches.

Neil Gaiman

Make Good Art

University of the Arts, 2012

Neil Gaiman is an English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre and films.  A must watch for any artist and everyone who hopes to be creative and successful.

Steve Jobs

Connect the Dots

Stanford, 2005

Drawing from some of the most pivotal points in his life, Steve Jobs, chief executive officer and co-founder of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, urged graduates to pursue their dreams and see the opportunities in life’s setbacks, including death itself.

JK Rowling

The benefits of failure and imagination

Harvard University, 2008

J. K. Rowling is a British novelist, screenwriter and film producer best known as the author of the Harry Potter fantasy series.

David Brooks

Make Commitments in Life

Dartmouth 2015

“We are not a society that nurtures commitment-making,” “New York Times” columnist David Brooks told the Class of 2015. “But your fulfillment in life will not come from how well you explore your freedom and keep your options open. … Your fulfillment in life will come by how well you end your freedom.”

David Foster Wallace

Learn to be Humble

Kenyon University, 2005

This is just the audio and not a video of his commencement speech, but the essential message on the need to learn humility and the ability to engage with diverse people and points of view is so well expressed that I include it.

Prof Rick Rigsby

Seek Wisdom, not Just Knowledge

Rick Rigsby commands the audience with his presence. His speech is reminiscent of Martin Luther King… with his tone of voice raising and lowering and his pacing of his words deliberately used to emphasise his message.

My Name is Bono and I am a Rock Star…

“That’s not a cause, that’s an emergency…”

Oprah Winfrey at Harvard

Bill Gates at Harvard

Bill Clinton at Yale

Barrack Obama at Arizona State