The Post About A Song for Graduates

There's a lot of advice out there for graduates.

A few of my favorite recent speeches were given by Mindy Kaling at Harvard and Rainn Wilson at USC.

However, there's something missing at these graduation ceremonies...a great class song. Not an alma mater, but an actual song that some trio of capped and gowned graduates sings in harmony to canned music over bad speakers.

When I graduated high school, my classmates chose a song written a decade earlier. Not a classic ode to change or hope or wisdom.

They chose The Theme from St. Elmo's Fire.


That's not all. There were lyrics for our capped and gowned singers.

We laughed until we had to cry
And we loved right down to our last goodbye
We were the best I think we'll ever be
Just you and me
For just a moment
We chased that dream we never found
And sometimes we let one another down
Made everything alright
We shone so bright
For just a moment


I respectfully request a do-over. I nominate and unanimously choose "What'd I Say" by Ray Charles.

This song was originally composed at the end of a concert in 1958 when Charles and his orchestra had 12 minutes left to fill. Both the lyrics and music were entirely improvised on the spot.

Life Lesson #1: Sometimes your best work will happen when you throw out the business plan and the marketing strategy and just do it.

Charles doesn't begin singing until a minute and 30 seconds have passed.

Life Lesson #2: Be slow to speak, and quick to listen.

The song is almost seven minutes long. Most songs played on the radio at the time were two and a half minutes. Radio and record executives balked at the length but Charles stood by every second.

Life Lesson #3: What you create or your choices won't always make sense. That's okay.

Billboard magazine initially gave "What'd I Say" a tepid review: "He shouts out in percussive style ... Side two is the same." Charles' label, Atlantic Records, pushed the single despite a lack of critical acclaim. Within weeks, the track topped out at number one on Billboard's R&B singles chart, number six on the Billboard Hot 100, and it became Charles' first gold record.

Life Lesson #4: Not everyone will be on your team, but the ones who matter will be.

While the Beatles were developing their sound in Germany, they played "What'd I Say" at every show. When Mick Jagger sang for the first time with the band that would become the Rolling Stones, he performed a duet of "What'd I Say." The Animals, Steve Winwood, the Beach Boys, and Van Morrison counted the song as a major influence on why they were interested in music. It's been covered by Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, Sammy Davis, Jr., Jimi Hendrix, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, Billy Joel, Etta James  and Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Life Lesson #5: Leave a legacy.

What was your class song? What would you add to a graduate's playlist?

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