It’s that time of year again. Graduation ceremonies are happening across the country, and inspirational messages are being delivered everywhere. Being selected as a Commencement speaker comes with a lot of responsibility. You’ve got to come up with some wise words to deliver to graduates while somehow trying to be original. It can be a lot of pressure, and not everybody can pull it off. The following transcript, obtained after another round of graduations this weekend, shows just how badly some speakers can fail. It may just be the worst commencement address ever.
Dear Graduates, Parents, Faculty, Staff, Catering Service, Student Loan Officers, and Bored Younger Siblings Wishing They’d Downloaded a Better Game from the App Store Before Getting in the Car,
Welcome. It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining, your gowns and hats haven’t yet begun to itch, and on this day, you will turn the final page on an immensely valuable and, ironically, ridiculously costly chapter of your lives. That was a metaphor. Your life isn’t really a book, see, but I used the comparison to illustrate… never mind. If you’re an English major, just explain it to the robots from the Engineering college. I’ll give you a second.
Thanks for helping me out with that.
Anyway, it’s a great day. And as you look forward to what comes next, I’d like to offer a few contractually obligatory words of advice. Unfortunately, I have to start with some bad news. Most of you have probably wasted a huge amount of time and money over the last four years. That horrifying statistic you’ve probably heard about how student loan debt has outpaced credit card debt in the U.S.? Congratulations! You fine folks have led the charge. Well, you and the gluttonous maniacs running this institution who’ve convinced themselves that an Art History degree is worth the $150,000 they asked you to pay for it. On the plus side, your money is being put to good use, paying part-time adjunct faculty who live in constant fear of being replaced by cheaper labor to teach classes formerly led by tenured folks with fancy doctorates.
But alas, the truth is that many of you will end up working in fields only tenuously connected to your degree, fields that you likely could have entered into years earlier, learned from the inside out, and actually ended up being further along in mastering than you are today. But all of you should not despair. For many of you, your four-year degree is the key to being able to spend even more money on a Master’s degree, law school, or medical school. And for that, the university’s coffers would like to thank you.
Now, you may be thinking that, no matter the cost, college has been worth it. And I want you to know that I salute your misguided optimism.
These have been the times of your life, you say? Irreplaceable and deeply meaningful friendships have been forged? Wisdom and self-possession you couldn’t possibly have imagined have been conferred upon you during your time here? Ha! I can’t think of anything sadder than a person who has peaked at age 22. It’s all downhill from here, and not in the good way where that expression means things get easier, but in the bad way where it means that things will only get worse. Wait, why is that used both ways? Can we get a ruling on which is correct? We can’t? You fired all the linguistics professors and replaced them with disgruntled mall cops who teach criminal justice instead? Great.
In any case, a good deal of you will spend the rest of your twenties and most of your thirties pining in vain to recapture the spontaneity and freedom of your college days, only to fail at every turn and be woefully disillusioned when your attempts to feel young again end in frustration and embarrassment. You’ll put off marriage or having kids or both because you don’t wan’t to be trapped, only to end up bitterly regretting your desperate attempts to remain untethered. Well, either that, or in your rushed attempt to “get real life started,” you’ll settle down too quickly and worry endlessly about what might have been if you’d taken that year to travel.
I’d like you to do something for me. Look to your left. Now look to your right.
Both of those people are probably going to be more successful than you. I mean, look at his chin. Do you think the Sales Manager at the company you’re both applying to are going to care that your GPA is half a point higher? Have you ever asked a salesman what grade they got on their Western Classics final? Didn’t think so. Seriously, look at that chin. Like it’s chiseled out of marble.
And her? She wanted to finish in the top 3% of the class so badly that she developed a pretty serious pill problem to manage the stress and reduce her needed amount of sleep to three hours a night. Meanwhile, you posted up on the ratty couch outside the house you rented with nine other people four nights a week, pounding cheap beer and arguing about your favorite Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson movies. Sorry kid, but you’ve got no shot.
Uh, hold on. I’ve lost my place here. Crippling debt, unending regret, imminent failure: check, check, and check. Oh, here we are!
Yikes. These next few cards are as bleak as the first bunch.
Wow, I was gonna do a kind of good news, bad news thing; you know, start off with something that sounds bad but is actually a blessing in disguise, but I see now that I’ve just kind of dug us into a pretty dark hole here, huh?
All right. How to turn this around? Uhh, let’s see… I mean, I’m sure that there’ve been some benefits to your time in college. Like, if you were in a fraternity or sorority, you probably got to see some pretty gross stuff, plus you’ll have formed connections that you can unfairly leverage into job opportunities that those of you who worked harder, learned more, and were better students in general will never have.
Oh, boy. This positivity stuff is harder than I thought. Uhh, better wrap it up then.
In closing, just let me say that the future is in front of you. Not there for the seizing, so much as there for the panicked navigating, but, you know, it’s there all the same. So go into it. Boldly, carefully, frightfully, I don’t really care.
Maybe that’s the positive lesson I can teach you. That most people are as unconvinced of your ability to make something of yourselves as they have been of any group of young people in history. So the good news is that you’ve got a goal. Prove them wrong.
But like I just said, I don’t really care. So if you do end up proving them wrong, you might be the only one who notices. I hope that’s good enough. It has to be.