Candy Moulton: Advice For The Graduates

Columnist Candy Moulton recalls when she gave the commencement speech to Encampment High School: "My son admonished me, 'Don’t talk about the Oregon Trail.' 'Why not?' I asked him. 'Because it’s 2,000 miles long and boring.'"

Candy Moulton

May 14, 20244 min read

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Fifty years ago this week, I wore a black cap and gown on the stage at Encampment High School to receive my high school diploma.  At the time our class of 13 felt ready to conquer the world.

I stood at the podium as valedictorian and told my classmates, “It may seem that we have reached our goal. But as we stand here, we realize that there are still many more rungs on our ladder of life.” What an understatement!

Twenty-three years after I gave my high school graduation speech, I was invited back to EHS to address the graduates of 2007. To prepare, I solicited advice from family members.

My children both told me to keep the speech short. – So, I told the audience that day, “I decided my time limit would be four hours. I’ve seen you all sit here that long for basketball games so I know the level of endurance your behinds can handle. Someone may want to fire up the popcorn machine.”

My son particularly admonished me, “Don’t talk about the Oregon Trail.”

“Why not?” I asked him.

“Because it’s 2,000 miles long and boring.”

I was impressed that he knew the length of the trail…obviously he’d learned something about it despite his reluctance to join me on the wagon trains.”

Despite his advice, I told the students graduating from EHS on June 2, 2007, to learn the lessons of the trail: “Endurance, determination, hardship, cooperation, law and justice, compassion, death and grief, joy and wonder.”

My mother, herself the valedictorian at EHS sixty years earlier, told me, “Tell them to go to college.”

“Or trade school,” my dad added. His trade school had been the Army Air Corp during World War II and the ranch shop after he returned home.

I warned those students who were ready for their independence that their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, teachers, neighbors, aunts, uncles, friends, maybe even a few strangers who’d had a hand in raising them, weren’t likely to quit that job just because a student turned a tassel and became a graduate.

I told them to find faith.

Last year I had a third opportunity to stand on a stage and address a graduating class when I returned to Northwest College as the 2023 Distinguished Alumna.

Unlike the two graduation classes I’d addressed at EHS,  where I knew everyone on the stage, these college students were strangers to me.

Even so I told them. “You will find that life is made of random opportunities – prepare yourself to take advantage of them. Also recognize that karma is a real thing. Some things just seem to happen.”

Leaning back into the message my children had imparted years before, I did take their advice and kept it short.

This is the message I shared last year and that I extend to all graduates this year as they step out of high school or college:

Have a dream and go for it – but be a doer. Be willing to put in the time, effort, and work to make things happen.

Build a network – meet people.

Don’t burn bridges – You never know when that one person you’d rather not deal with will be the ONE person who can help you in the future.

Don’t quit until the job is done – no matter how distasteful – I learned this when cleaning the chicken house on my family’s ranch when I was only 10.

Ride the horse like you stole it. My best friend taught me this skill…work hard, go fast and good things will happen. Or at least you will be able to outrun the bad ones.

Volunteer. Without doubt much of the success I have had in my career has come from the volunteer work I’ve done along the way.

Build a network, create your own luck and opportunity, find a job then show up for work every single day and do more than either you or your boss expect.  

Realize that you must pay your wallet (to cover your bills), but most importantly you have to pay your heart and you have to pay your soul.

Congratulations to all high school and college graduates across Wyoming.

Candy Moulton can be reached at

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Candy Moulton

Wyoming Life Columnist

Wyoming Life Columnist