May is my second favorite month, rivaling only September…because it’s the start of NCAA college football! I love May because it’s the month of weddings and graduations. Last week I was honored to be the commencement speaker at Pennsylvania College of Heath Sciences in Lancaster, PA. I shared with the crowd of 4,000 that I graduated college 27 years ago.

And I could not tell you…for the life of me…who the commencement speaker was – let alone one important word, story or piece of advice he or she shared. I told the graduates that I hoped there would be at least one nugget in my message they would never forgot. That my 20-minute commencement speech would motivate them to lead, love and live differently – perhaps even five, ten and twenty years later.

When we use our words wisely – they can make that kind of impact. But when we use our actions wisely – they can make even more of an impact.

If you Google “top ten high school and college graduation gifts” you will learn that most people buy graduates these nine items – watches, bikes, gas cards, music or TV streaming services, portable chargers, laptops, noise-cancelling headphones, backpacks and digital assistants. And the number one graduation gift is moola… buckaroos… cashola!

Our son, Anthony, is graduating high school on Thursday. He is graduating Cum Laude. He’s a smart young man! And me, I graduated high school, “thank God Almighty Cum Laude”! He is graduating as assistant captain of his Valor Christian High School hockey team. I graduated assistant captain of Suffern High School’s detention room! We are incredibly proud of Anthony. Not only because of his academic and hockey achievements, but because of the heart, integrity and character he possesses.

Last fall I sat Anthony down at the start of his senior year. I told him that the last eight months of high school will be critical to his long-term success. I told him that we’d already bought him, over the years, a watch, bike, gas card, music and TV streaming service, portable charger, laptop, noise-cancelling headphones and backpack…and I don’t even know what a digital assistant is!

I told him that I wanted to give him a different kind of graduation gift, something that would make him lead, love and live differently – five, ten and perhaps twenty years later.

So, last September I reached out to eight mentors who have changed my life.

Dear, Jimmy, Walt, Frank, Scott, Byron, Timmy, Jerry and Scottie:

Our oldest son, Anthony, is graduating high school in May. For a graduation gift I’ve decided not to buy him something material. I want to give him something more special. I want to give him a different kind of graduation gift. I would like the eight of you to be his graduation gift. I chose eight men around the country that have had a profound impact on my life. Men of faith. Men of leadership. Men of love. And I’m asking the eight of you to mentor, guide and pour into Anthony for one month each of his senior year. Frank, can you take September. Jerry, October. Walt, December. Scott, January. Timmy, February. Jimmy, March. Byron, April. And Scottie, May? Lastly, on Sunday May 20th, eight months from now, would you all come to Denver to have a celebration dinner honoring our son? Thanks for your consideration. Love, Tommy

All eight said yes. And last night, all but one mentor (rightfully stayed home in Georgia to care for his wife who’s fighting cancer), flew and drove into Denver to attend Anthony’s celebration dinner. Last night was incredible. I will never forget it for the rest of my life. The dinner was supposed to be about changing Anthony…but it also changed me. To sit around the dinner table with seven of the most authentic, successful and loving men – all pouring their hearts into our son. All sharing what it takes to become a heart-led leader. No gift is greater. Not even a digital assistant!

What if we did this for all our graduates? A different kind of gift…replacing material gifts with mentor gifts?

And, what if we did this for all our direct reports at work? Surround them with men and woman that have changed our lives? Mentored us? Made a tremendous impact on our careers? I think this commitment to our direct report’s personal and professional growth would mean even more to them than buckaroos or cashola! And certainly, more meaningful than a dang digital assistant!

Many of those material graduation gifts will be in the garbage some day. But surrounding those we love and serve with mentors – people of influence…now that is even better than September NCAA college football!