The Best Commencement Speech You’ll Never Hear
I originally wrote this to present to the graduating class of 2011, but I was never actually invited to speak at any graduation ceremonies. I figured I just got it in too late, and someone would call me in 2012, so I waited by the phone. It never rang. Then the same thing happened again in 2013, and 2014, and 2015, and 2016…
Eventually, I gave up and just put it online. Now it’s yours. The best advice no one ever game me.
YOU ARE WELCOME.
My Commencement Speech To The Graduating Class Of
I will never be your commencement speaker, but if I were your commencement speaker, I would commence to speaking one thing and one thing only: You do not need something to fall back on.
If there’s one piece of advice that parents always get wrong, it’s the idea that their children need to set aside their dreams for a few years, go to college, and get a degree. You know, so they’ll have something to fall back on when the real world crushes their hopes and leaves them shattered and bleeding in the back alleyways of life.
It’s nice advice, and it comes from a well-intentioned place.
Your parents don’t want to see you beaten and broken by the world just because you might not be as talented as you think you are. They want you to have a safety net, for when the inevitable happens and you realize you’ll never be a Hollywood director or bestselling author, or a rock star or movie star, or even a brilliant concert flügelhornist.
It’s sound advice, tried and tested by parents the world over. It’s why we have so many college graduates in the world today. And that’s a good thing, right?
Yeah…it’s just too bad most of them end up scrambling to compete for a place in a dwindling job market of over-educated twenty-somethings who find themselves working for peanuts after they realize everyone’s walking around at ground level with a $100,000 safety net.
College isn’t cheap.
And, unless you’re lucky enough to have full scholarships, you’ll have to pay for it yourself.
And, unless your parents are rich, that means you’ll take out student loans.
And, with very few exceptions, most careers take decades to show profitability after you subtract the hideous amount of debt that typical college graduates carry around with their diplomas.
You’re graduating high school today, which means you’re still young. And if ever there’s a time in your life to risk everything, it’s now. You have the whole rest of your life to play it safe and boring, and those days will get here soon enough. Don’t invite them early.
Don’t wait until after you’ve put years of study and thousands of dollars into a degree you can fall back on. That kind of investment isn’t a safety net. It’s a ball-and-chain, and it’s one to which you’ll find yourself shackled for the rest of your natural life.
But what your parents and teachers aren’t telling you is that college will still be there a few years from now. You don’t have to take one foot out of high school and immediately plant the other in a university just because everyone is telling you it’s a good idea.
Because it isn’t.
Not if you’re a dreamer. Or someone with a basic grasp of simple math. If your parents truly understood things, if they encouraged you to do anything, it would be to learn a trade. Learn a skill, apply it, and make money from it. Then, use that money to pay for college, if you want to go that route later on. Because the jobs are there for the people with the skills to fill them. However, and I kid you not kiddies, the college system as it is now is designed to accept you with open arms, then wrap saddlebags of inescapable debt around your neck and kick you out into a world that doesn’t have a job for you.
So anyway, take some time to go for your dreams now, before you have student loans to pay back and a mortgage to meet and a family to support. The less you have to lose, the more you can afford to fail. And you’ll never have less in your life than you have right now.
That’s a good thing, I promise. Cherish it while you can
Sure, most of you will never realize your dreams. It’s just the nature of the beast. The world is filled with dreamers, and they all want their shot at the prize. It’s life’s version of the cereal box contest that comes with the disclaimer that “Thousands will enter, few will win.”
And you probably won’t win.
But you might.
The only sure thing is that you’ll never be at a better place to try than you are right now.
So when your parents and all the adults in your life tell you it’s fine to have dreams, just as long as you have something to fall back on, you tell them that it’s also fine to just shut up and let you take a shot at the one thing that’s ever made you happy in this otherwise miserable and loathsome world.
Take your shot now, while you still have time.
You’re the only one who can.
The Guy Who Will Never Be Your Commencement Speaker