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!

A Change of Address

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With May nearing an end, many young men and women are taking steps towards a new beginning bygraduating from high schools, colleges, and other educational institutions. At these ceremonies, the school selects someone to give a commencement address with an inspirational message to send these young minds off into the world with a sense of purpose.

As a public speaker, I am always ready should a school need a commencement speaker. As a marginally famous blogger, though, I’ve never been asked to give a commencement address since high school. Maybe they saw it? Regardless, I am prepared nonetheless with this year’s commencement address.

Graduates, parents, instructors, and administrators of [insert name of school], we are here today to acknowledge the accomplishments of these young men and women dressed in caps and gowns and to send them off into the world to experience it as every young person should: by racking up a lot of debt.

Whether you’re entering college, the military, or the job market, you are entering a time when you will be making a lot of adult decisions in a seemingly short period of time. And each one of these decisions has the potential to impact your entire life, both positively and negatively. Yes, you can and will screw up more times than Charlie Sheen, and if you’re lucky, you won’t wind up on a series of unfunny sitcoms. If you’re unlucky, you will wake up next to Mr. Sheen or star with him on one of his unfunny sitcoms, or both.

So, what can you do to avoid these potential pitfalls? I’ll give you the same advice my grandpa gave me so many years ago: don’t be stupid. What my grandpa lacked in warmth and tact, he more than made up for with all the smokes and booze I could handle. Ah, to be five years old again…

Anyway, the older I get, the more Grandpa’s words make sense. Back in his day, there weren’t too many people whose intelligence could be measured on the pH scale, but today we seem to be surrounded by them. People who park their shopping carts in the middle of the aisle so they can walk two feet behind them to ponder the mysteries of life while trying to figure out whether they should get creamy or chunky peanut butter. Drivers who drive down the wrong side of the road and then look at you like you’re the idiot. Fast food drive-through workers who ask you if you want fries with your order…after you already said you wanted fries. Politicians who say we have to pass a bill to find out what’s in it. These are the people you will be dealing with on a daily basis, folks. And they may be contagious.

So, we’re back to not being stupid. That’s easier said than done, especially if you haven’t had a lot of life experience yet. Granted, you can have a lot of life experience and still be dumber than a bag of hammers, but if you start on the path to not being stupid early enough, you might be able to avoid being that person whose tombstone gives your final words of “Hold my beer.”

The first step is to recognize your limitations. This can be hard to do, given how highly and how often we think of ourselves. Seriously, I was telling [name of school’s high muckity-muck] I haven’t heard “me” so much since I went backstage at an opera house while the diva was doing vocal warmups. Whether you call it hubris, ego, narcissism, or I’m-Just-That-Darn-Awesome-ism, your self image will lead you down the wrong path more than Google Maps.

This doesn’t mean you suck, but it doesn’t mean you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, and when you really think about it, sliced bread is pretty awesome. You just need to know what areas you need to work on and what areas where you kick butt. Taking an honest assessment, warts or acne and all, will help keep you in check.

The next step is to be aware. Yes, kids, that means putting your iPhone away for more than a couple of seconds. It can only take a second (or several drinks) to make a bad decision, so you need to watch out for warning signs. That face tattoo might seem like an awesome idea and it will certainly be a conversation starter, but it may also be the fast track to not getting a job outside of a tattoo place. Taking intimate selfies may seem like harmless fun, but not when those selfies can be put on the Internet, or as it’s also known, the WORLD WIDE WEB. Imagine being in a Senate confirmation hearing and being grilled over that picture of you at Cabo San Lucas on spring break where the beer bong tube conveniently covers your naughty bits. Ah, to be five years old again…

The third step is to think outside of yourselves. You’ve spent years training your minds to process information a certain way, but it’s not the only way to do it. There are people with different backgrounds and perspectives who will come into your life and challenge what you know. These people aren’t to be hated. They are to be welcomed. You can’t have a well-rounded life by staying in your own little world. Go outside your comfort zone and learn a little from life.

The best advice I can give you from my own life, though, is to not let people get to you. Not everybody is going to be hearing this speech, and I’m sure there are a number of you in the audience who have already tuned me out and started Tweeting about how horrible a speaker I am. And if I were overly concerned about them, I would tell them to shove their hashtags up their backsides. But since I’m not, I’ll calmly advise you that the world is full of people full of themselves, and you’re not required to be one of them. You may feel a little out of place by holding a door open for someone, but as long as it’s not a revolving door, you should be okay. The more you do for those who may not be able to reciprocate in any way (or may be too busy on their phones to notice), the better you will feel. Plus, you never know. You might start a new trend. I mean, the manbun had to start with someone, right? And I know you graduates can come up with something better than the manbun.

So, class of 2017, let me leave you with one more piece of advice from Grandpa to see you through.

Hey, you kids! Get off my lawn!

Graduation and Empty Nest

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Well the teenager has graduated from high school and even has a good bit of college under his belt already. Got to really love the programs high school kids are offered these days, sure wish they had them 30 years ago.

Soon my wife and I will transition to being empty nesters. No more kids at home and the youngest will go off to college and live on campus the first year at least. I know he will be missed. The first month or so will be getting used to him not being there and then it will settle in to a new routine.

I haven’t been kidless in a long time, since Dawson moved in with Donna and myself to finish his high school career and then only having a slight break between the end of my first marriage to Donna and the beginning of my life with Kristen. There has been a kid in the house.

Looking forward to being just 2 of us again (not including the cats.)