Thank you to the president, the board, and the distinguished faculty of Generic State University. It is my great honor to stand before you and the Generic State graduating class of 2012 and their adoring families.
Many commencement speeches begin with a thematic quotation from a great American thinker, business tycoon, or poet. These speeches are often forgotten about as quickly as it takes to give them. Instead of telling each of you about how to tackle the wild world that you are about to encounter or handing out due credit for your completed collegiate journey, I am simply going to be honest:
The world you will meet after today is dark, hard, and full of cruel realities.
First – and this is no jab at the team of pros that decorated this place, it truly looks stunning – I never understood why graduations are not treated more like a funeral instead of a jubilant celebration. A commencement ceremony is where your consequence-free mistakes are laid to rest, never to appear again. If you miss a few classes because of martini-and-mescaline hangovers, your professor won’t even notice. At worst, your inconsequential grade may drop a letter. Miss a few days of work for the same reason and you’ll quickly make acquaintances with an unemployment queue.
Second, don’t try to keep intact the same friendships that you have today. Identify the important ones – the ones that add value to your life – and keep those steady. For the rest, let the wind take them where it may. This naturally happens within a few years anyway, so why not get the ball rolling early? You’ll end up saving yourself and many others a lot of time, frustration, and needless wedding expenditures.
My third point: Live somewhere you like because you’ll probably spend the rest of your life there. Your first city after college is often where your kids will grow up and your first job after college will most likely turn into a career and provide the means to pay for said kids to attend college themselves. Don’t live in a place if you wake up each morning and mutter on your way out the door, “Why the fuck do I live in Phoenix/Minneapolis/New York/Cleveland? It’s so goddamn hot/cold/expensive/terrible.” Unless you plan on living for 10,000 years, those places aren’t going to change much during your lifetime. Phoenix will stay hot and Cleveland will stay terrible. You have my word on that.
It might be a little late in the game, but do something with your career that you at least partially enjoy. You’re going to spend more time each week going to, being at, or coming from work than you’ll spend with your friends and family combined. So, try your best to find a job you don’t hate. If you have worked at a place for a year and can’t stand it: leave. Unless you’ve already been drafted by an NFL or NBA franchise – in which case you’re not listening and shouldn’t even be here – your dream job does not exist. Just find a job where you spend less of your time dreaming about hurling your body through a 20th story window than you do spend picturing that sequence.
Work life is less about finding your perfect career path and more about the avoidance of choices that would render you miserable. Never show anyone that you’re good at something if you wouldn’t enjoy doing that one thing, all day and for the foreseeable future. That would be like running after a pickpocket only to tell him the PIN to your debit card after he robbed you.
In closing, I want to acknowledge that a few of you are special. A handful of you have the perfect blend of talent and ambition and courage that combined will yield fame and fortune, awards and accolades. Some of you will truly change the world that the rest of us occupy.
But most of you won’t.
Most of you aren’t that special at all. In fact, with more and more people graduating from universities within our now global economy every year, you’re becoming increasingly less special. If you think that a bachelor’s degree from Generic State is redeemable for real estate and Range Rovers, then the portrait I painted of the world today was not dark and hard enough.
Try not to think of yourselves as something special and life won’t seem so disappointing.
I want to thank you for your time today. I wish all of you the best of luck as you embark on your new careers.
…Ehem…I’m done. Seriously, you can start applauding now.
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