Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Yeah it's been awhile. Don't judge :P So I was thinking today about graduation and the caps and gowns and the parties and the commencement and speeches and whatnot. And I realized that most commencement speeches are useless. Having been a part of a high school band, I've heard many graduation speeches sandwiched by those wonderful melodies and Pomp and Circumstance and Recessional. (Yes, that's sarcasm.) And most of them stunk. I mean, don't get me wrong, they were fantastically inspirational: Reach for the stars, be a go-getter, always improve, be the best, you are the best! Go to college, get a job, get married, settle down, put into your 401k and you're set for life. You'll be happy. (There will be an upcoming post on happiness, but with my history of blogging [or lack thereof] I'm not giving an ETA.)

And most of these kids listening to these speeches end up working minimum wage jobs in food service and retail. Happy? Probably not. So what would a real, honest commencement speech sound like? (Rabbit trail: I just realized that I double-spaced after one of my sentences and am now wondering if I did that for any others. Perhaps I should go check?) Ahem. Moving on. Yes, down-to-earth, realistic commencement speeches. So here it goes, since all of you know that I will one day be the most sought-after graduation speaker ever. You can all say you knew me when ;)

Dear Class of 20__,

Congratulations. You've made it through one of the easiest chapters of your life. Oh yes, you can say that those chemistry labs were hard, that trigonometry exam was a killer, and that high school drama is worse than anything else in life. But those were actually some of the easiest challenges you'll ever encounter. Welcome to  the real world! [kudos for that line go to my dad.] But before you go turning your tassel, I'll leave you with some advice that should be given to every graduate transitioning from the the stage of high school to the harshness of reality.

First of all, make goals. I know, you're 18 and you've got your whole life. Well it's going to fly by. So figure out what you want now. Know what you want to be doing when you're 22, 33, 45, 67, and 99. [of course those numbers have significance, but only mom and Pete will get it probably.] Now figure out what you need to do to get there. Life's a journey, and you need a map. Or GPS, as maps are probably obsolete by now. Make sure your goals are attainable. You probably won't be making 60k right out of college. But you can work up to it, if you work hard and smart.

Secondly, get a job. Yeah, it's your last summer to goof off with your friends and have fun. But even a summer spent working at McDonald's looks better on a resume than being a party animal. Even if you don't want to have a career in food service, it will teach you priceless lessons of having a work ethic and being responsible. In fact, get a job that's either in food service or retail. Keep it for a minimum of two years. It will teach you a lot about people and even more about yourself.

Third, and I mean this in the kindest way, you're not special. You're not going to change the world. You're not Dr. King or Ghandi. You're also not owed anything. If you want something, work hard to get it. Save money, get another job, make sacrifices. Again, this is the real world. And the real world isn't beholden to anyone, least of all a brand new high school graduate. 

Fourth, want to go to college? Great. Before you start looking, know what you want to major in. Don't know? Don't go. College is expensive and the market is saturated with many worthless degrees. Look into tech school and research what certificates may be less expensive but still hold the same value. Go to job search sites and see what employers are requiring for positions that interest you. This is the real world, and no one is going to do this for you.

Fifth and finally, know what's really important. Having 800 friends on Facebook might make you feel cool, but having three or four friends who support you will get you through the rough times in life and celebrate with you during the good times. Having a job that requires you to work 70 hours a week may make you feel prestigious, but the times you'll want to remember are those that you spent with your family. Know who's important, and make sure they know it too.

You've only got so much time. Make it count.

Cynical, I know. But I think there's a little too much Pomp and Circumstance out there, and it seems a little unrealistic. See you in six months! (Just kidding, Mom; I'll try to blog more frequently, I promise...)


  1. 22, 33, 45, 67, 99...
    There's never a wish better than this,
    When you've only got 100 years to live.

    Good thoughts. But you always were a good thinker. I knew you when!

    Love, Mom

  2. Bethie,

    I can't say I knew you when, but I can say you are totally right. That line about heading off to college is what I've told ALL my children: if you don't know, don't go. It makes me a horrible parent, discouraging my kids from getting a needed education...except I know a lot of out of work graduates, starting out in debt with no way to pay it back. The reality is, you can always head off to college when you DO know. My oldest, Brooke, worked at McDonalds for six months -- nearly killed her father because he wouldn't let her spend a dime, but she now owns her first car, debt-free. She also went straight into her profession as a graphic artist by working as an intern. #2 needs a degree for her profession, but she's at junior college for her AA and is looking at senior colleges with hands on programs for her major. I'm afraid if you went out and actually told people the truth, you'd never be asked back, but preach it girl!!
    Mary Fuller

  3. Very true! You should have been asked to speak at commencement.