After reading this excerpt from the You’re Not Special commencement speech, I thought I’d write down what I would say if anyone ever asked me to speak at their commencement. Here’s my first draft:
Do you know what graduation is?
It’s our way to let you know that you are now expected to act like an adult.
When you sign your name to something, it will be legally binding, so make sure you read and understand what you are agreeing to.
When you take out debt, you will be expected to pay it back. You now get to pay your own bills.
You will no longer be given a $13,000 a year education funded by your parents and neighbors.
We expect you to become productive, property tax paying members of society, so you can help pay back the $170,000 of education that we just gave you so others can receive it too. I hope you learned something useful.
If you see a problem in the world that you want to fix, get creative. Own it. Volunteer to do something about it.
Always remember, you are a lucky. Your ancestors, within the past few generations drank dirty water, used an outhouse to do their business and may have suffered or died from a number of diseases that have since been wiped out with vaccines and disinfectants, just to name a few things that have improved.
You already live better than kings and queens did a few generations ago and much better than billions in the world RIGHT NOW. Many of those billions would trade places with you in heartbeat.
Keep that in mind when you have a bad day.
You may be poor, but soap is cheap. Keep yourself clean. Have some pride. That one is from my mother-in-law.
Home ownership is a privilege. You earn it after you have demonstrated that you can manage your money and take care of things.
Save your money to buy a home, if you want to be a home owner. Save for emergencies. Save for unexpected expenses. Save for job losses and income interruptions. Save for bad things that will happen to you through no fault of your own.
Save for retirement. Don’t count on anyone else to take care of that for you.
Also save enough money so you can quit your job when you are asked to do something that compromises your principles. That’s your “f-this” money, by the way.
Then save enough so you can quit you job with style. That’s your “f-off” money. That’s about 10x more than your “f-this” money.
Make a plan A. This is your main source of being a productive citizen. Develop a plan B, C and maybe D.
Get along with people. Be adaptable. Keep your skills sharp and learn new skills so you will have a plan B, C & D. If you are able-bodied, try not to be a burden on the rest of us. There’s no dignity in that.
If you aren’t able-bodied, try to figure something out. That will get you further.
Think about what will happen if you lose your job. What happens if you get divorced? What happens if someone gets a major illness?
If you haven’t figured it out, not many trophies and awards pay the bills. Most are meaningless and random. If you win one, it means that you satisfied the biases of some small group of people. A different group of people may have thought differently.
Your first responsibility should be to those around you. Your family. Your friends. Take care of them before you try to change the world. In fact, taking care of them is your best shot at changing the world.
You won’t get many trophies, awards and recognition for doing that, but you will make a very good difference.
Many of your heroes will turn out to be goats. Many of goats will have heroic moments. Don’t get too worked up about it.
If you plan to vote in elections, do your homework. If you don’t do your homework and all you can do is call the other side names, or say that you really like this candidate because you’d like to have a beer with him, please do us all a favor and do not vote, no matter what your teachers and MTV tell you to do. They should tell you to do your homework first.
Being productive isn’t always glamorous. Sometimes it means showing up on time and doing what you’re told. Sometimes it means putting into action that great idea you had. I know of a great many leaders who still didn’t mind getting their hands dirty.
You won’t always be awarded for good effort or good results. Thems the breaks. Life ain’t fair. Some of you are good-looking and some of us aren’t. That’s not fair. But that’s the way it is. I got that from someone else, but already forgot who.
Since you were a baby you have been learning through trial and error. You try something, you err, then try a different approach until you find something that works.
Don’t stop doing that. You will continue to make mistakes. Don’t get too worked up about them. But, do learn from them.
If you’re doing something where it’s really important not to make mistakes, learn to build a process or system that helps find mistakes, because you won’t stop making mistakes.
Be a good sport. There’s upside to being nice. There’s more downside to being mean.
With all things, there are trade-offs. You probably don’t know what that means now. Many of you will figure out what it means when you discover that whatever it is you think you want to do in life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It has trade-offs.
For anybody who has seen Rambo, being a badass is cool. But you also have to be able to stitch yourself up, and that usually isn’t very fun.
Learn to laugh at yourself, even when everyone IS laughing at you.
Finally, you can’t control everything, but you can control how you react to it. Try not to be a jackass. And when you are a jackass, apologize.