My 2019 Commencement Address

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Although you may not be able to tell from the weather outside, Spring is finally here again, as is graduation season. Appropriately enough, it’s also the time when I wait patiently for invitations to speak at graduation ceremonies that never come. Maybe it has something to do with a) not being famous enough, b) not being a rich enough alumnus to justify it, or c) they’ve read my past commencement addresses and said “Hard Pass.”

Regardless of those, I want to present to you the speech I would give (and am still willing to give) to this year’s graduating classes.

Hello, students, faculty, and family of the Class of 2019! If you are seeing and/or hearing this, we have survived yet another doomsday scenario dreamed up by people who claim to have all the answers. As a commencement speaker, it’s assumed I have all or at least most of the answers to what lies ahead. And you’d be right…and wrong.

You ever have that dream where you arrive to school on the last day for a final and realize you haven’t studied, the test has already been distributed, and you’re wearing nothing but a pair of pink Victoria Secret panties with matching bra and a pair of Crocs? Okay, maybe that’s just me, but the point is you’re scared, vulnerable, and don’t know what to do next. Welcome to Adulthood 2019, kids!

Instead of telling you to put on a brave face and go out and pursue your dreams, I’m going to level with you. It’s okay to be all of those things. Half the battle of being an adult these days is dealing with the anxiety that comes from being an adult these days. The other half of the battle? Knowing.

GI JOOOOOOOOOOOE!

Okay, bad 80s reference there.

The point is it’s okay to be uncertain in uncertain times, and we’ve hit the jackpot on the Slot Machine of Uncertainty lately. Whether it’s global climate change, the economy, tensions around the world, or where to get a good cup of coffee, there are always going to be problems that are too big for any of us to solve. And, yes, I know you think you have all the answers because I was once in that same position when I was your age. But all it takes is one person or situation to change all of that.

For me, it was the professor of my very first class at the University of Northern Iowa, Dr. John Eiklor. I walked into the auditorium for my first lecture thinking I was so brilliant and above it all, and 45 minutes later, I walked out realizing I needed to get my ego checked and my brain engaged. And since then, I have devoted myself to two causes. First, learning as much as I can to become more well-rounded, and second, never walking into an auditorium ever again. Well, that last one didn’t turn out so well due to having 6 more years of college to go at that part of my life, but the first one is still going strong.

Even though my desire for knowledge has continued, there are still some things where I’m just as clueless as ever. Like the Man Bun. No matter what, it rarely looks good on anyone unless you’re a samurai, and even then there is room for doubt.

Just like in life.

Soon, you will be faced with making adult decisions and you will make mistakes, just like I have. But it’s in the lessons we learn from those mistakes that make us who we are as adults. If it hadn’t been for Dr. Eiklor giving my ego a hard check into the sideboards, I don’t know if I would have been smart and brave enough to know that I didn’t know. Okay, that sounded better in my head, but the point is to always leave room for doubt in your lives because it’s in those gray areas where we find ourselves, both figuratively and literally, and maybe have some fun along the way. Instead of being bi-curious, be try-curious and try whatever suits your fancy. You will emerge from the experience richer than when you started it.

Just a word of warning, though. There are two consistencies in life. One is inconsistency. The other is there will always be bad movies coming out of Hollywood. We can’t overcome the latter, but we can overcome the former by keeping an open mind. Just because something worked for you now doesn’t mean it will always work. The worst thing you can do in your lives is to self-restrict your field of vision.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some hard truths that can’t be swayed, however. I wanted to be a great basketball player in my teens, and I would be if I didn’t have the physical attributes of a three-toed sloth with narcolepsy. I still love to play, but I know I won’t be the next LeBron James and most likely neither will you. Welcome to the club!

Wait a second…did I just stumble across a nugget of wisdom here? Yes, yes I did. When all else fails, find common ground with people. So much of the stress we face in life comes down to us focusing on our differences instead of the really important stuff like what unites us. So, what should we be doing? Binge watching Netflix, of course! Well, either that or figuring out we’re different, just like everyone else!

Confusing, isn’t it? Well, that’s what awaits you once you walk out of here and into the next stages of your lives. Life isn’t supposed to make sense, folks. It’s supposed to be lived.

And that’s the best answer I can give you as far as what to expect out there in the Real World. You won’t have all the answers either, but at least you’ll know you won’t and that it’s okay not to have them. Just do right by yourself and others and you’ll be fine.

Thank you for listening and not throwing sharp and/or heavy objects at me. Congratulations, Class of 2019!

My 2018 Commencement Address

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It’s that time of year again. High school and college students are graduating from their various institutions of public or higher learning, and that means they get to sit through another commencement speaker. Some are great (Michael Keaton’s will be hard to top), some are okay, and most are…well, predictable. All inspiring and “reach for your dreams”. Who wants to hear that?

In what is turning into at least a semi-annual tradition, I present the commencement speech I would want to give to graduating seniors.

To the Class of 2018, I have two words for you.

Now, what are you thinking those two words are? If you’re a WWE fan, you might think those two words are “Suck it!” That would be appropriate if I were former President Bill Clinton, but no. If you’re a comic book fan, you might think those words are “I’m Batman.” Considering Michael Keaton beat me to it, it’s not that. If you’re polite, you might think those words are “Thank you.” Not quite. Is it “I’m sorry”? No, that doesn’t come until after my speech.

Give up yet? Well, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. The two words I have for you are…

Lighten up.

I know there are some of you out there who are thinking of two more words to say to me, but this is a family commencement speech. And, I want you to hear me out.

When I was your age, which was…far too long ago, I took myself way too seriously. I mean, I liked to have fun, but I thought I was the smartest thing since sliced bread. (Which, if you really think about it, isn’t that smart.) That ended after my very first class my freshman year of college. I walked in thinking I was brighter than everyone else and walked out knowing I wasn’t.

I offer you the same advice I learned the hard way: lighten up.

Listen, I know you have a lot on your plates. Global climate change which may or may not be considered weather, potential school shootings, online bullying, and any number of other threats that never could have been conceived when I was in your shoes. You may think you have to grow up faster just to keep up with the issues that pop up on a regular basis. I used to think that way, too. But here’s a little secret: this crap has been going on for decades. You’re just the latest group to find out about it.

You have a few options on the table, though. Some of you will choose to try to fix the world’s problems. Others will try to deny the problems exist. Still others will decide the world’s problems don’t have to be yours. After almost 50 years on this planet, I can assure you those of you in that last group are going to be a lot happier. Maybe not as happy as the people who deny the problems exist, but hey, you’re close enough for government work.

That just leaves the fixers out to address. I’m one of you. I love digging into issues and trying to figure out how to resolve them, so I get why you want to change the world. The problem is most of the change you’ll see is of the pocket variety, and most of your best efforts to fix the world will end in failure.

Brought the room down a bit, didn’t I?

This is why it’s important to lighten up. If you shoot for the moon and get frustrated you keep missing, you will get discouraged, depressed, or, worst of all, the urge to run for Congress. This is why it’s important to lighten up: it helps us calibrate our expectations to our abilities while making sure we’re not too hard on ourselves in the process.

And that goes for the lot of you! Have we forgotten how to have fun and laugh? I have seen so many situations where we have assumed the worst from people merely for telling a joke that we didn’t like. Except for you, Michelle Wolfe. You’re just not that funny. We have reached a point where jokes are the source of more outrage than people and actions that deserve outrage.

Lighten up already! Not every joke is an example of the Patriarchy oppressing people or whites oppressing minorities or whatever the outrage du jour is on any given day. To paraphrase Sigmund Freud, sometimes a joke is just a joke. And it’s only when we lighten up that we can recognize the jokes from the actual issues that need to be addressed.

And before the length of this speech becomes an issue, I’d better wrap it up. There’s a big world waiting for you out there, and it’s best experienced with a sense of humor and a smile on your face, if for nothing else than to confuse the people who don’t have either.

Congratulations! Now, go out there and lighten up!