I recently attended my niece’s graduation.  You’ve been there:  thousands of grads fidgeting beneath mortar boards, waiting for their big moment, in a ceremony that seems to last a lifetime.

We listened to commencement speeches inspiring new grads to make the world a better place.  It struck me that as the grads transition to their new “reality” (first jobs, summer vacations, or — gulp — moving back in with the parents) those messages may soon seem distant and not very actionable.  Unless…

Unless those grads stop to consider all the hometown nonprofits already hard at work toward those “better world” goals.

Here’s how it works:  in his recent commencement speech at Harvard, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg called on grads to build a better future – one where affordable childcare lets parents continue working, where preventive healthcare saves costs and keeps people healthy, where prison reform gives low-level offenders a second chance, where continuous education helps people stay employable as they age.

Lofty ideas?  Far away and out of reach?  Only if “right next door” is out of reach.  Local nonprofits like Neighborhood House and Wisconsin Early Childhood Association are making employment possible for hardworking parents.  Children’s Hospital, MLK Heritage Health Center, Aurora Health Care and others are working hard to improve community health and prevent hospitalizations.  Clean Slate Milwaukee is just one of the nonprofits providing fresh starts for young adults haunted by misdemeanor records.  Organizations ranging from local universities to Next Door Milwaukee to Goodwill Industries all help area adults reach for new futures.

Every one of these nonprofit organizations thrives on charitable gifts and volunteerism.  So while your grad is still starry-eyed, point out that it’s easy to take action on that inspiring valedictory message:  just contribute time or treasure to a local nonprofit.  Or maybe even start a career at one.

In fact, here’s an idea:  as a graduation present, why not make a donation in your grad’s honor?  Maybe that will spark a charitable giving habit for them.

That’s a “commencement” that would last a lifetime…in a good way.

For the Milwaukee Business Journal
June 12, 2017

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