So as a public service, hereis the commencement speech I would have given if asked. Just picture me in a gown and mortarboard while I clear my throat, shuffle the pages of my notes, then begin …
“Good afternoon, graduates, teachers, administrators, members of the school board, parents, and bored younger siblings. I will try to be brief and will probably fail because I have a lot of wisdom to impart here. Feel free to take notes.
“This is called ‘commencement” because its supposed to be the beginning of a whole new phase of your life. For a lot of you, that’s won’t be true at all.
“Sure, some of you will be going off to some prestigious college somewhere else, but let’s face facts. A lot of you who leave will change your minds and come back. Many of you who do stay will change your majors four times and wonder why you ever chose that school in the first place.
“And then there’s those who stay at home to go to school. You will find it a lot like high school, especially since most of you don’t remember muc
h of what was taught here. I know, I know, you studied hard and passed the tests, but be honest; you forgot half of it by the time you cleared the parking lot and most of the rest by the time college starts in the fall.
“So am I saying that what you learned here was worthless? Not at all. And I don’t just mean what you learned with your boy- and/or girlfriend. I mean you learned something about moving toward a goal and reaching it.
“When employers say they want a college degree, they want it not so much for what you supposedly learned – although that’s a nice bonus – as evide
nce that you didn’t get sidetracked by liquor or dope or romance or simple boredom.
“It’s … well, it’s sort of like an obstacle course. They keep throwing psych and bio and lit at you and you don’t give a fig about most of that but you keep jumping over this and dodging that and eventually figuring out how to work within a complicated system, which is what you’re probably going to have to do when you finally do graduate from there, just like you did here.
“Now, for the other half of you in those gowns and funny hats ….the ones who won’t go to college, or who will spend one listless year in community college before going back to work full-time at Jamba Juice. Doesn’t it cheese you off that all the accolades go to the kids who are going off to the Ivy League and you’re not getting much sugar at all?
“Let’s face it. You are going to be the ones who fight America’s wars, put out the fires, fix the cars, police the streets, nurse the sick, deliver the mail and so on and so on. You will probably be underpaid and underappreciated and the instant that your boss can figure out a way to outsource your job to some yahoo in Sri Lanka who is willing to do your job for 10 cents a day and a biscuit, he will.
“Some of you won’t even get that far. You’ll move into your parents’ spare room (or stay where you are), get a part-time gig at GameStop or Tilly’s or CVS and never change your zip code. Eventually the Old Folks will move to Arizona and let you use the house until … well, you know ….
“Feeling depressed about the future now? Did I rain all over your parade of balloons and teddy bears? Good, because you might benefit from a dose of reality. And here’s the real message of commencement.
“It is time, boys and girls, to commence getting serious. It’s time to graduate toward a different attitude. In a world where change is rapid and globalization is king, you need to have not just a skill but an approach to life that any employer – or spouse – would want. Are you well-organized? Are you motivated? Are you reliable?
“Are you reading about your possible careers or futures now, or just waiting to be passively stuffed with it in the fall? Are you just going to do well enough to get by? Do you have any passion for what you might be doing?
“If you’re going to be a lawyer, fine. But be an outstanding one. Embrace your occupation and try to improve it as well as your job prospects. And if you’re going to be a mechanic, that’s great, too. Be the best mechanic around and auto shops and customers will shove money into your pockets.
“The future will always be bright for people with a sparkle in their eye and some fire in the belly. Folks who are prepared to give something extra. You need to be that guy. If you’re not, start checking out the attic in your grandmother’s house. That may be as close to the top as you’ll ever get.
“Thanks and have an upbeat day! I know I helped!”