(Since it is the time of year for commencement speeches, I’ve decided to write my own for a university that does not exist, at least not anywhere else but in these words – p.s. I hope this isn’t lame – I ended up talking a lot about an oak podium)
First off, I’d like to thank Imaginary University for having me here to speak today. I’d also like to thank the weather gods for giving us a beautiful day this morning, though ten years from now I doubt we’ll be reminiscing about the weather. But when you reach my age, you start to realize just how many little things go unnoticed as time flashes by. Like when you stop and pose for pictures later, just how quickly you’ll forget you were smiling for a palm-sized cell phone angled sideways. Or how if I don’t call attention to this podium, only a few of you would notice this is oak. This podium will be in use even after we’re all gone. That’s not all that important, but it’s true. It’s a representation of strength. And that’s true too.
You know, the other day when I was finalizing just what I’d like to get across to you young people during this speech, I had to remind myself that no one wants to hear advice. I know I don’t, even when I ask for it, I’m probably only asking because I’ve got nothing better to do than endure ten good minutes of torture. So instead of torture, I’ve decided to try my best at just giving truths. Like this one here: Some of you will take longer than others to land a job in this market. See I almost scratched that out of my speech because that’s not even fun to say, let alone listen to. But how about this one: Now that you’ve earned your degree, no one can ever take it away from you, even if someone absentmindedly uses your diploma as toilet paper one day, it’s still there resting in your record, in your file. Somebody can look it up and see that, yes, you did graduate. Or this one: If you’ve made it this far, I don’t care if you finished with a 2.0 GPA, you’re smarter than you were when you entered the college classroom your first day. You see, you’ll learn though experience and age, just as you do in the classroom. Some might even say, the best knowledge won’t cost you a penny.
But there’s something to be said about knowledge gained during a time when you’ve got a lot to lose. For example: those of you paying for your education, be it through loans you’ll have to pay back, or working your way through school and paying as you go, it’s your money at stake if you don’t finish up. Failure for you means you’re giving your money away. And I don’t know about you, but regardless of the marketing skill on a cardboard sign someone has there on the corner, I’ve never been tempted to fork over tens of thousands of dollars for a smile and a whiff of that unpleasant body odor. And if you’re on a scholarship, you’ve got something to live up to, something to maintain. And as I said before, some of you might say the best knowledge won’t cost you a penny. Others might be fortunate enough to have parents who can afford to send you off to school. Your end of the bargain is to come back a brighter person, a better person. There’s no greater gift than someone giving you the opportunity to be a better you.
Now this oak podium I stand behind was shaped into a stand for people like me to read from. Carpenters or whoever chiseled the brave tree that gave its life. It endured pain for lengths of time we can imagine, but can’t quite be accurate about. And so did you all. This oak is strong. It signifies strength. And it may be here on this earth longer than all of us, but we’re all stronger. Together we’re all stronger. Don’t forget your friends. Don’t forget your family. If you have each other, you’ll give yourselves the best chance to make it through anything.