It’s that time of the year when freshly minted graduates are required to sit in a hot auditorium or on a sweltering green and listen to long-winded speakers tell them the way things are.
Not many get to pick up their degrees without enduring this final torture before heading out to a summer job or a trip across Europe and then, finally, beginning what the orators like to call Life in the Real World.
I like Russell Baker’s take on the subject.
The author and humorist told graduates, “The best advice I can give anybody about going out into the world is this: Don’t do it. I have been out there. It is a mess.”
It’s a great line, though not very practical. Excepting those professional students who never seem to be done with their education, we do have to get on with it eventually.
We need to work for a living, at least most of us. That’s part of the reason why we educate ourselves. So what graduation speakers should be telling you — and guidance counselors before them — is to follow your heart. Find what you love to do and make that your life’s work.
Have some fun along the way and don’t worry about embarrassing yourself once in a while.
The TV satirist Stephen Colbert put it this way in a graduation speech: “… Don’t be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise.”
I’d also like to hear more commencement speakers tell their young audiences that money isn’t everything. (Advice can be trite as well as true.)
The happiest people I’ve known in my life did not have a lot of material wealth. Often they were people who worked to alleviate the plight of less fortunate people. They were people who loved well and were well loved. They often had extended families (which you can define in many ways) and always many faithful friends. Cliche as it might sound, that’s what matters in the brief time we have here.
Only a few of us will achieve fame and fortune by discovering a cure for some dreadful disease or inventing something remarkably valuable or excelling in sports or entertainment.
To my mind, even more important are the unknown heroes who taught me to tie my shoes and recite the alphabet and read great books and who instilled in me a love of the arts and the joy of fine cuisine.
Our graduation speakers have an unwritten obligation to advise their audiences of a few basic platitudes: Shoot for the stars, never give up the dream, never settle for mediocrity and always do your best.
It’s inspiring stuff and how do you argue with it? But I think some more mundane advice would be nice too.
Lately I often see the suggestion, “Dance like nobody’s watching.” It always makes me smile because I think it’s great advice.
Russell Baker, in his commencement speeches, had this tip: Sleep in the nude.
“In an age when people don’t even get dressed to go to the theater anymore, it’s silly getting dressed up to go to bed.”
What’s more, he reasoned, it’s a guilty pleasure you can pull off without getting caught by the puritan police.
Irv Dean is the Gazette’s city editor. Reach him by email to email@example.com.