Oh, to be a commencement speaker. The flowing robes, the captive audience, the honorary degree—there’s no greater pompous circumstance.
I got lucky at my college graduation. The speaker was Garry Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury and husband of Jane Pauley. After a decade (OK, fine, two) I don’t recall what he said, but I do remember he was funny and concise. No qualities are more important to sun-drenched people in stadium seats.
I made a valedictory address at my high school. It lasted all of a minute, got straight to the point and drew laughs (OK, chuckles) in the right places.
No one has asked me to speak at a graduation since—just an oversight, I’m sure, so I’ve got a speech ready to go just in case there’s a late cancellation.
Hello, Class of ‘07! I’m so happy to be here—and name of administrator is even happier. I don’t know how far down the list he/she had to go, but I only got called after Paris Hilton’s driver and Britney Spears’ babysitter said no. Good thing y’all had a spare robe sized Extra Short, Extra Round.
Now, since I didn’t get a lot of time to prepare, I could just give you a stock speech out of the Commencement Cliché Handbook. You know what I’m talking about: “This is not the end; it’s just the beginning. As you spread your wings and fly away from this nurturing nest, to begin your fantastic journey …”
All right, enough of that.
I’m just going to share two pearls of wisdom that have been passed down through the ages:
“Sha-la la-la-la-la live for today"—and, “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.”
Go ahead, take a moment; hum them in your head.
OK, it may seem like a stretch to find significance in a Grass Roots/Fleetwood Mac mash-up, but hear me out.
I know so many people who get out in the “real world” and lose their sense of balance.
Some just live in the moment, spending all they earn—and more—without a thought toward the future. The Cliché Handbook says “among you sits the scientist who will cure cancer"; more likely sitting among you are future victims of outsourcing, downsizing and cancers without cures.
That’s a harsh reality check, but don’t head too far in the other direction. Don’t be like the people who only plan ahead and miss out on joys of the moment. Go skydiving, but also buy accident insurance. Eat ice cream, but also hit the gym. Buy a lottery ticket, but also enroll in a 401(k).
Perhaps the most clichéd cliché is “you’ll look back and say these years were the best of your lives.” Personally, that would make me want to jump off the Bay Bridge.
I say that the best years are ahead of you, as long as you follow the sage advice of Casey Kasem:
“Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”