Graduates, first let me apologize for not actually appearing at your graduation ceremony.
But surely you will understand, even if your parents do not, that flesh-and-blood commencement speakers are relics of the past. Indeed, some of those speakers were themselves relics, tired old politicians and so-called self-made men who dispensed fool’s-gold wisdom about “the real world.”
Accordingly, your school administrators have chosen to allow you to read this speech on your phones, since they knew that all of you would have been staring at your phones during the speech anyway. That was a good decision, an example of the kind of forward-looking, keeping-up-with-the-times, oh-what’s-the-use thinking that we need in our schools.
I have been asked to congratulate you on your academic achievements, but come on, a high school diploma? Hell, I’ve got one of those. It’s around here somewhere. But what I mean is, you don’t need to be dwelling on your high school experience.
You will be reminded of it, whether you want to be or not, every night for the next several years, in all sorts of odd dreams where you are walking down a crowded hallway in your underwear. You will only stop having those dreams if you go to college, in which case you will dream for the rest of your life about showing up three days late for a final, or of being strangely unable to respond to a simple question from a professor.
It has been said that no matter what you do in your life, everyone you meet will remind you of somebody you knew, or at least knew of, in high school. It’s true. We all become ourselves in high school, except that in the pressure-cooker environment of high school, we are actually exaggerated versions of ourselves, which is why those types are so easy to recognize later in life.
Do you remember that one bully, not very smart but convinced of his superiority to everyone else, with enough money from his parents to think he didn’t have to work for money, utterly unable to sympathize with other people?
You will probably work for that guy someday. But the good news? You won’t be in high school anymore, so you will actually feel sorry for the big dopey bastard. You’ll still want to punch him in the nose, but you won’t need to.
But here I am dwelling on high school, when we need to be looking at your future. The future is important because that’s where all the money is. You can even make money in something called the futures market, and if I were your age I would try to figure out what that’s all about.
Speaking of my age, I don’t expect you to believe this, but when I was in high school there were ads on television that showed a man in a white lab coat ministering to a roomful of enormous computing machines (so primitive I hesitate even to call them computers). The tagline on the ad was: “Do you want to work with your hands without getting your fingernails dirty?”
I wanted to work with my head without getting a concussion, so I became a reporter. But the point is, something you take for granted is going to seem hilariously absurd to people younger than you, maybe even those poor freshmen you laughed at all this year.
As a wise man once said (I’m pretty sure I read the book in high school), the only constant in life is change. That means you shouldn’t worry too much about what you need to do to prepare for life in the real world (which is just like high school but with shorter spells of terror and exhilaration).
For instance, what if you go to medical school and after 10 more years of absolutely mind-numbing education, just before you graduate, somebody invents a magic pill that cures every illness? Or what if you earn an advanced degree in English literature, only to discover that English is a dead language? You may scoff, but it happened to the Romans.
So my advice to you—and at this point you might want to stare at your phones in a thoughtful manner—is to get out and experience the world for five or 10 years. Let the future unfold for a bit while you go out and live in the present, which is the best tense by far.
Visit foreign countries, learn another language, read “War and Peace.” In fact, read “War and Peace” right now. You won’t regret it. Plant a garden, learn to play a zither. Learn how to tune a zither. Ride a donkey across North Dakota. Post a video of highlights of your trip across North Dakota on YouTube. Emphasize your donkey’s personality, which is the key to this sort of documentary.
OK, I’m probably getting too specific. I guess what I’m really telling you is that I wish I hadn’t been quite so eager to enter the real world, by which I mean several buildings, where I worked for something like 35 years. Stay out of buildings as much as possible for the next few years.
And put away your goddamned phones.