Thursday, June 3, 2010

Commencement Speech

Ladies and gentlemen of the Class of 2010:
Looking out on this sea of bewildered, bored and stoned faces reminds me of my own college graduation in 1992.
Yes, I’m a living fossil.
I remember listening to my commencement speaker, U.S. Congressman William Hughes, an affable old gentleman who spoke at great length and with much chagrin about how terrible the recession was and what an uphill climb we’d all face in the job market.
Even though my friends and I passed the time during the commencement speech riffing on the speaker, we were apprehensive about our own futures. For example, which graduation party to attend?
I promise you that though my commencement speaker totally sucked shaved Rhesus monkey balls, yours won’t.
Now I could wax eloquently about your college sagas, about the struggle it took pulling all of those all nighters and cramming for exams to just only squeak by, about getting shitfaced at that Kappa Sigma kegger and hooking up with your best friend’s girl, and about the time you woke up in a puddle of your own vomit at Denny’s with bits of Moons Over My Hammy in your hair.
I could speak with great flourish about continuing your educations, about life being some wondrous adventure of self-discovery and improvement, about never quitting in the face of great odds and working tirelessly and with dogged determination to realize your dreams.
I could tell you that, but I’m no bullshitter.
Basically, the only real and practical wisdom I can impart to you is not to take crap from anyone.
Life is a harsh mistress, one that repeatedly will rub out cigarettes on your flesh and kick your ass like some German dominatrix. Life is unforgiving and cruel. Sure, there are moments of great joy and levity, but for the most part, it’s a jungle out there.
The world doesn’t care if you have the best grade point average or the nicest car or the hottest girlfriend. Your college years are just a springboard to your professional life, a training ground and boot camp that will prepare you for dealing with assholes, dicks and douchebags. Some will want you to kiss their asses, while others won’t even know you’re alive, though you’ve been working in the adjacent cubical for ten years.
My next bit of advice is to not get too depressed when things don’t work out according to plan. You probably won’t get the dream job you’ve hoped for. I’ve always wanted to be a published novelist. Instead, I’m writing for a local weekly newspaper at the Jersey shore. At times the work is mundane, but I work with really great people and have cultivated sources and friendships over the years.
The Rolling Stones sang, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Sir Mick and the boys are right. You can’t, so don’t feel sad. Instead, get angry. Get crazy pissed off and do something about it. Have one of those Network moments where you throw open the window and scream, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
I know that working at a Starbucks making venti mochachinos for a bunch of bored housewives isn’t your paramount reason for being on this Earth, but don’t let that define you. New opportunities will come along, so be patient and keep your eyes open.
Never give up.
Refuse to be mediocre. Refuse to compromise your integrity. You might be working in a bookstore well into your 30s instead of landing that job as an accountant with a posh corner office and a BMW. So what?
Many young people today expect guaranteed employment as soon as they graduate.
Life doesn’t come with guarantees, younglings. It doesn’t owe you a good career with a high-paying salary, a happy marriage or a house in the suburbs.
The only thing you can expect in life is to improvise and muddle along, to survive and be happy. Not everyone gets to be Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Not everyone will be a celebrity. The vast multitude of us slog through our day, working, paying bills and tolerating bullshit. Once in a while we find solace in others, in love and relationships that soften our hardness and make life worth living. We choose which moments to treasure, what to remember and what we forget.
Some people whine about what they don’t have and express their regrets ad nauseam. Don’t be like these people. Seriously.
All of you worked hard to get here. Along the way, your families and friends prodded and supported you in your scholastic endeavors. As a bunch of trust fund babies, you might have been given a boost, but it was still an uphill climb. Never forget their sacrifices, and would it kill you to visit your parents once in a while?
Nothing lasts forever. Many of you are under the misconception that you’re indestructible and things will never change. Remember that change occurs all the time. Your parents or friends won’t always be around, so be good to them while they’re here.
Get plenty of exercise and take care of yourself. I know it’s tempting to sit around eating Cheetos and watching that Battlestar Galactica marathon for 18 hours, but using a forklift to move your ass to the bathroom is a telltale sign of obesity. I’m not saying do the Ironman Triathlon or anything hardcore like that, but just get enough exercise to prevent you from looking like Jabba the Hutt.
Have a sense of humor. Life can be a tragic horror show, with death and unhappiness. Your best defense is laughing at disturbing shit. Try to see humor in things. There’s a reason the grim, suit-wearing executives keel over and die from stress: they take everything seriously. Remember, he who laughs last doesn’t always laugh best. He might be a dipshit who didn’t understand the joke to begin with.
Stay active. The worst thing you can do as an adult is settle and grow complacent. Volunteer at the library. Get a hobby. Go back to night school and learn automobile repair, medieval tapestry making or animal husbandry. Becoming well rounded and knowledgeable makes you more interesting.
Be the person you’ve always wanted to be. That sounds New Agey and superficial, but think of it this way: you only get one life to develop and grow. Every decision you make moulds and shapes you. Instead of using time to kvetch and moan about President Obama, that bitch Judy in the next cubicle or that crappy finale to Lost, do something constructive for your future.
Sometimes you’ll get lucky. As life is unforgiving, it can also show you a shimmering light of mercy and reward you. Embrace these lucky moments in your life because they might be few and far between.
Lastly, my future unemployment recipients, do what makes you happy. Joseph Campbell’s maxim to “follow your bliss” is appropriate here. The most unforgivable sin a person could commit against themselves is to reach the end of their life and realize they ignored their happiness. Some do this out of convenience, others out of fear. Never be afraid to do what makes you happy. Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.” It made sense in the 17th century just as it does in the 21st century.
Understand who you are, what makes you tick and what you desire. Then, and only then, will you be ready to get what you want out of life.
Congratulations and good luck.

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