Monday, June 02, 2008

A commencement speech no one will give.

I have sat through a few high school commencement speeches in my life and to tell you honestly, most of them are pretty boilerplate stuff. Follow your dreams, you are the future, make the world a better place than you found it, the same themes are delivered from podiums across our great land to a sea of bright faces, straining against the leashes of confinement, waiting to burst forth and set the world ablaze.

Not that following your dreams is a bad thing, or trying to make the world a better place is an unworthy goal mind you, I just wish there were two commencement speeches, one for the top ten percent who will most likely achieve some sort of financial or professional success, but what about the other kids, what about the kid with a 2.3 gpa and no plans for going on to college? What about their commencement speech?

No one asked for it, but here it is.

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2008, or at least the lower 90% of you, today is a great day. On every job application you ever turn in, you will be able to check the box that says I have a high school diploma. This may not seem like a big deal now, but it is. There are a few more ideas I would like to have you think about as you go out into the world, here are just a few.

Your job will define you only if you let it. If you grow up to be a plumber, be the best plumber you can be. When someone calls at you 3 A.M. with their basement flooding, you will be the most important person they meet that month, a fact you will remind them of when you hand them a $400 bill for a two hour emergency service call.

If you bounce around from job to job for few years trying to find something you like, don't get too stressed out, I worked all kinds of jobs before I stumbled into the communications field. However, don't make bouncing around your permanent occupation. There are enough lazy kids in their parent's guest room 'finding themselves', the world doesn't need another one. Keep working, even if its something you don't like, think of it as practice until you find you dream job.

No one cares what kind of car you drive or the kind of shoes you wear, really, they don't. If you spend half your paycheck on a car payment and the latest fashions trying to impress your peers or the opposite sex, you will have friends who like you because of your car and date people who like you because you look cooler than you really are.

When you finally settle down and get married, you will look back at your twenties and stand in amazement at the amount of time and money you spent chasing the opposite sex. This may help. Try to think of your future girlfriend or boyfriend as a car. What kind of car do you want? Do you want that fast sports car with the shiny rims and a high performance engine? If you do, you had better have the time and the money to keep that thing running. High performance equals high maintenance. If you choose say, someone with the attributes of a mid-sized sport compact or a small pick up, you may be much better off in the long run. Low maintenance, steady, reliable and if you keep them waxed and clean, you can still take them up town on Saturday night.

Having cool stuff is very similar to the car and shoe example I spoke of earlier. Only this time, you will buy stuff to make yourself feel good. This feeling of 'yea, my big screen, HD set rocks' will last for a few weeks or until your friend buys one a little bigger. Chasing after stuff, more stuff and better stuff is another cycle to avoid. Remember, happiness isn't having what you want, its wanting what you have.

Be a good friend to your friends and be a nice stranger to those you encounter in you life. Keep confidential things confidential, and forgive your friends when they screw up because you will certainly be asking for someone's forgiveness someday. A word about friends, choose them carefully. The friends you make and choices you make concerning drugs and alcohol can turn a bright young person into a cynical, angry person. I have seen it happen, and so have you.

If you are a person of faith, don't give up on it as you enter this new world. Your faith will be questioned, tried and tested, you may even walk away from it for a time, I know I did. When life gets tough, and believe me it will, having a personal relationship with God can give you the strength to make it through. You will never know how much God means to you until He is all you have left.

If you find yourself in twenty years with a mortgage, a spouse, a couple of kids and maybe a chubby golden retriever in the back yard, relax, you did just fine. You may look at others who seem to have it all and wonder why your life turned out so ordinary, but if you love your spouse and your children and if you make an effort to be just a little bit better person everyday, you will do fine with the rest of your life. If you find yourself on your third marriage, with two bankruptcies and an outstanding bench warrant, you may want to start rethinking your decision making process.

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