Sunday, May 20, 2007


Congratulations, but your work is just starting

Thank you, Mr./Mrs./Dr. Principal person, I will now begin with the commencement address. First of all, let me congratulate all of you young people, who have been working up to this moment for the last 12 years (for you linemen on the varsity football team, you don’t have enough fingers on your hand, so don’t bother counting).

This is the moment that you have all been working for since your mother drove you to kindergarten, masquerading in sadness but breathing deep exclamations of reprieve once you were out of the car.

The moment you’ve been looking forward to all these years is, of course, my speech, which I spent all of 30 minutes this morning working on, devising platitudes which could summarize your entire life up to this point, and concocting rote predictions of the struggles that are to come.

I’m sure you won’t mind that, any more than you mind sitting here for the next hour waiting for a diploma, overdressed on a humid May evening, perched on an uncomfortable metal folding chair seated next to guy who always wanted you to tell him the answers during the geometry test.

So, now that we’ve established how glad you all are to see me here, let me tell you what I’m going to… uhm, tell you, I guess. This is what you have earned through all of your hard work during the last decade: more hard work. Life, that crusty but lovable old codger that he is, knows how much you enjoyed your labor, and so he’s provided a lifetime’s worth to anyone just plucky enough to take him up on it!

The remainder of our speech will be directed at those of you who will be moving on to the college or university of your choice, so those of you who are ending your education here can go now. We wish you all the best, and good luck to you!

(Wait for seats to empty and the non-college bound to depart.)

Not that luck is going to help them, where they’re going! Ha ha! But anyway, I’m glad that those of you who actually want a future have stuck around. I know what each of you ambitious kids are seeking: the winning numbers for the Tennessee Lottery. I can’t help you with that, but fortunately I know the thing you’ll accept if the winning tickets are taken.

You all want … a Real Job. It may or may not come with a company e-mail address, a desk, or even a cubicle, but a Real Job is that first position that you can describe unashamedly to your fellow adults. Over the next four years (or five, for those of you who will change your major, which is, well, probably all of you) you will seek the courses, the internships and the grades that will differentiate between yourselves and millions (and I do mean millions!) of college-bound competitors who are receiving their diplomas this month.

By the time you are ready to graduate, you will have tried unsuccessfully to line up that first real job so many times that you think you’ll be ready to take anything that provides you with a business card. When you finally land that first Real Job, the euphoria will rush over you like a freshly running stream! You’ll be on top of the world! Nothing will be able to pull you off that cloud!

Nothing except your first actual day at work, that is. If you arrive at work at, say, 8 a.m., on a Monday, look for the euphoria to be snuffed out by roughly 9:15. Unfortunately, the end of euphoria is not the end of work, or even the end of the work week. By Friday, your alarm will go off and, you can trust me on this, you will mutter the following dialogue to yourself:

“In one hour, I will get in my car for my 30-minute commute. In 90 minutes, I will be in my office among the people I have to trust but barely know, and 30 minutes subsequent to that I’ll probably be on the phone calling people who don’t really want to talk to me.”

You will then hit your snooze alarm, hoping the whole ordeal will be made easier by nine more minutes in bed.

There will be times when you work late, wondering to yourself if your peers (so to speak) who chose not to go to college, but instead to do work in the tertiary sector of industry during the day and then get intoxicated at night chose the better career path. These are natural impulses, but don’t yield to them. Your future reward will come! If those dividends seem too distant, then make yourself feel better by thinking of those “peers” of yours who have to call you “sir” and ask you what size cup you want during your lunch break.

They have to show respect to you, and you ought to show it to yourself. Give yourself such esteem by meeting all your responsibilities with all your ability. Ask yourself this: if everyone at my office/in my church/in my country were like me, would it be a better place? If you can say yes, your self-respect will eventually be followed by the esteem of others.

Now go out there and get to work.

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