10 realities to share at a commencement speech

There are the standard bromides that graduation speakers cast upon the sea of mortarboards. Then there are the stark truths that young adults really should hear.

It’s that time of year when universities and high schools go through graduation ceremonies and we celebrate educational achievements.

It’s also that time of year when you get bombarded with every great commencement speech ever given. There is clearly a recipe for giving a great commencement speech. Here are the ingredients:

1. Make the graduates feel that they are about to accomplish something really great, and not just become part of the machine.

2. Make graduates believe as though somehow they will be difference makers.

3. Make graduates think they have endless possibilities and opportunities.

4. Make graduates think the world really wants and needs them and can’t wait to work with them.

5. Wear sunscreen.

I think that about sums up every great commencement speech ever given. The key to any great speech is not telling people what they need to hear, but telling them what they want to hear.

I would like to give a commencement speech; I think it would be fun. I like to inspire people. Here are the main topics I would hit if I were to give a commencement speech:

1. Work sucks, but being poor sucks more. Don’t ever think work should make you happy. Find happiness in yourself, not in what you do.

2. You owe a lot of people a lot of stuff. Shut your mouth, and give back to them. Stop looking for the world to keep giving you stuff.

3. No one cares about you. Well, maybe your mom, if you had a good mom. Your employers care only about what you can do for them. Basically, you can’t do much; you’re a new grad.

4. Don’t think you’re going to be special. Roughly 99.9 percent of people are just normal people, so you will be, too. The sooner you come to grips with this, the sooner you’ll be happy.

5. Don’t listen to your bitter parents. Almost always, the person who works the hardest has better outcomes in anything in life. Once in a while, a person who doesn’t work hard, but has supremely better talent or connections than you, will kick your ass. That’s life. Buy a helmet.

6. Don’t listen to advice from famous people. Their worldview is warped by their grandiose belief that somehow they made it through hard work and effort. It’s usually just good timing.

7. Find out whom you care about in life, and make them a priority. In this world you have very few people you truly care about, and who care about you in return. Don’t screw that up.

8. Make your mistakes when you’re young. Failure is difficult; it’s profoundly more difficult when you have a mortgage and two kids to take care of.

9. It’s all right that sometimes you have to kiss ass. It doesn’t make you less of a person.

10. Wear sunscreen. Cancer sucks.

Do you feel inspired now? High schools or colleges should feel free to email me. I’m wide open on my commencement speech calendar and willing to give this speech on a moment’s notice.

A version of this article first appeared on Tim Sackett’s website.


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