Commencement Speech

I don’t know anyone graduating this year from college (or for that matter high school), but given this is the season of commencement speeches, I thought I’d address a few thoughts of my own for the thousands of faceless graduates beginning their new journeys across the land.

Graduates, congratulations and welcome to the adult world.

You’ve already heard – no doubt – the sage words of notable speakers from business, entertainment, or government. By now, your asses are sore and your minds are weary from the funny anecdotes, soaring rhetoric, and too-long advice and reflections from those who have already achieved incomparable success. You’re now thinking give me the damned diploma; I have family and friends to see and a party to attend.

Before that, may I add several thoughts of my own? I promise to be relatively brief.

Might I suggest that the inspiring words of the eminent commencement speakers related to the unlimited opportunities and possibilities you all have is just so much bullshit?

Listening to someone who defied the odds and achieved so much success – generally, that means obscene amounts of money – isn’t going to be a template or a direction for most, if not all, of you.

Remember, I just welcomed you to the adult world. Adults acknowledge reality.

The truth is many of you have limited opportunities – and I won’t even talk of the debt load you now carry that will limit your choices for a number of years; for some, maybe your entire working life.

I will add I do hope we as a country get smart, and recalling the Book of Leviticus, declare a Jubilee year for all your college debts. You need to get on with your lives as previous generations did: be able to establish your own household and the peonage that comes from a mortgage; get married and raise a family – and all the other things television taught you is part of being a grownup.

And to be completely honest, it will allow you to pay your taxes to keep Social Security going to take care of your parents and grandparents as they move out of the work force.

Now back to reality and what opportunities you really have.

You may not have thought about it, but you already limited yourself by your choice of the major degree you just received. At least for right now, it will define your salary, your choices as to where you will live and where you will work, and who you will know. It may even affect who you can – or can’t – marry.

Now you may not see it that way.

You are at an age where you may think your life will go on forever and you can decide to do anything, so most decisions and choices are of little consequence as you can make up for them later.

But life will happen, and as much as you dread or deny it now, you will become just like your parents by being first caught up in the distractions and temptations of your twenties (not that there’s anything wrong with that) until you move into your more mature thirties and become loaded down with diapers, daycare, parent-teacher conferences, and soccer.

One day you will look up and realize you haven’t lived the life you planned or dreamed of when you were sitting where you are now. It’s not necessarily going to be worse – or better. But it will be different. For most of you, that will mean making peace with the choices and compromises you made. For a very few, that will lead to dramatic changes or unfortunate outcomes.

As I said earlier, adults acknowledge reality.

So here’s some reality-based advice.

Stay awake to what your life is and where it’s headed starting right now. Associate only with people who have integrity and love in their hearts.

Be open to what life offers.

Nearly everyone when they’re your age has something offered to them; be it a new opportunity; a job in a new location; a blind date; or a chance to meet someone. These are doors to be walked through. Most of you will find a number of those over the next few years.

But unless your family name is Bush or Clinton these opportunities will only come for a brief period. Sooner than you think, everyone will see the wide-eyed look you have now will have been replaced by the slightly glazed look that comes from having a job and responsibilities – a life that has few parties, no final exams, no year abroad, and no semester or summer breaks.

So when a door opens, if it feels right in your gut, take the chance and walk through it. It won’t always be what you hoped; it may not work out. But you won’t know unless you try.

And as means of encouragement, you may have heard of the 80/20 rule. It’s actually called the Pareto Principle, which states 80 percent of the effects comes from 20 percent of the causes.

So if you try enough times and take enough chances you’ll get most of what you want. We’re all adults here now, right? So most doesn’t mean all.

But for the majority of you, that will still give you an extraordinary life filled with people you love and who love you, and with a sense of personal worth.

Talk to someone older; they will invariably say their biggest regrets come from the things they didn’t pursue when they were younger. You don’t want to be them.

The other piece of advice I offer is don’t accept at face value the words of anyone in a position of authority in business, government, or religion. They represent institutions that work for their own interests, and they will use you up – and maybe kill you – in the process. And they all lie all the time.

Think for yourself, and given the seductive messages and sophisticated controls in place through the mass media, think everything through again.

Now, I do have one request. Be the generation that takes action on climate change.

Older generations failed you in this. The Pepsi Generation didn’t bring about the Age of Aquarius or realize the dreams of the original Earth Day. Like the Greatest Generation, it did both good and bad. And it will, as all previous generations have, fade into the past and become dust.

And it looks to me at this point that Generation X isn’t doing much better. So that leaves you Millennials.

Be the leaders humanity needs.

Congratulations. Now get busy.


Author: Tom

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