Inside Longfellow hall, Jim Ryan, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, talks about his book “Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions.” The book is based on Ryan’s 2016 graduation speech, which has more than eight million online views. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

   One of my small hobbies (or let me call it side projects) during the spring season is to watch and collect the script of commencement speeches given at universities. I enjoy listening to their personal stories of both success and failure just in the short twenty minutes. 

   One of my favorite is James Ryan’s 2016 Commencement Speech to the Harvard Graduate School of Education titled: 5 Essential Questions of Life. 

Here is a quick summary of the speech. 

5 Essential Questions of Life 

1. “Wait what?” – A very good way to ask for clarification which is crucial to understanding. It’s a questions to ask before drawing to conclusions and making decisions. 

2. “I wonder…” To ask I wonder why is to remain curious of the world and asking I wonder if is asking how I might improve the world. 

3. “Couldn’t we at least…” This will help you get unstuck and get past disagreement to some consensus. 

4. “How can I help?” How we help matters as much that we do help. Asking with humility for direction and you are recognizing that others are experts in their lives and that they will likely help you as much as you help them. 

5. “What truly matters?” Forces you to get to the heart of issues and to the heart of your convictions. 

So to recap: 

Wait what – is at the root of all understanding. 

I wonder – is at the heart of all curiosity. 

Couldn’t we at least – is at the beginning of all progress. 

How can I help – is at the base of all good relationships. 

What really matters – gets you to the heart of life. 

   I like every single one of them. James suggests to the graduates to ask these questions regularly and I concur with him. 

I love asking questions.  

Questions open up doors of possibility. 

Questions makes you wonder. 

Questions makes you think. 

Questions makes you doubt. 

Questions makes you explore. 

Questions makes you real. 

Questions makes you a true believer. 

If you observe the closest people you hang out with, you will notice that you ask similar questions. That is why you are drawn to them in the first place. 

To close this writing let me leave you with my personal question: 

“Are you saved? If you are how can you be so sure?” 



Links for the commencement speech: 

Full Speech:

Summarized Speech: