Etiquette Tip of the Week: Favorite Graduation-Lesson Story

It’s graduation season, and one of my favorite lesson-stories to new graduates came from Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother author Amy Chua, who was contributing, along with other leaders, to a piece in the Wall Street Journal. (“Hang In Their Graduates and Don’t Make Excuses,” Wall Street Journal, 4/30/2020.)

In her first year teaching at Yale Law School, Chua got a call in her office that she was late for her first faculty photo. She sprinted from her office in heels, down some stairs and across the courtyard, where everyone was lined up with the photographer, waiting for her. And in Chua’s words, here’s what happened next:

“When I was about fifteen yards away, I tripped. I tried to regain my balance but couldn’t. I stumbled forward once, twice, arms flailing, then fell sprawling all over the grass. With everyone watching, I’d executed a perfect flying face plant.”

“I remember lying there, thinking, ‘You know, Amy, I’m not sure you can recover from this one.’ I actually thought about just running away and never coming back. But somehow I survived that nightmare. And you will too. So hang in there, try to focus on how lucky you are compared to so many others, and you’ll not only make it through, but be stronger for it.”

I’ve discovered in 15 years of teaching etiquette that behind every successful person is a phenomenal face plant story. The difference in those who stay down and those who get up is determination and a willingness to learn from the stumbles in life. Humility and a sense of humor help, too. Chua’s advice is spot on: you’ll be stronger for it.

When you graduate, if you stumble out of the gate, get up and keep going. Your future success awaits.

Culture and Manners Institute