Graduates Remember the Golden Rule: Gold is Good

College GraduateWith graduation ceremonies upon us, I’m cheating a little bit and posting the commencement address I gave at Angelo State back in the summer of 2004. I’ve made a couple of updates for clarity but, amazingly, graduation advice really stands the test of time.

I would like to congratulate all of you for graduating before tuition prices go up again. When the movie Million Dollar Baby came out in 2004 (you know the one with Clint Eastwood and Hillary Swank), I think people thought it was about tuition prices and saving for college.

There is nothing quite so humbling as delivering a commencement address. Each of you has worked hard for four years, or, perhaps a wee bit longer for some of you. You’ve struggled through classes, your parents and relatives are in town, the drinks are in the ice chest—and here you sit, listening to another college professor—the only profession paid to talk in other people’s sleep. But it is important to remember, as Gary Trudeau, the author of the comic strip Doonsebury, tells us, “Graduation speeches were invented largely in the belief that college students should never be released into the world until they have been properly sedated.” So, if you can bear with me for just a few minutes, I’ll get out of the way, the air horns can sound, and you can cross the stage and join the rest of us working stiffs who haven’t won the lottery yet.

As I was preparing my speech, I thought back to past commencement addresses, thinking I might steal some tasty philosophical nuggets to pass along. Unfortunately, I can’t actually remember any of the commencement speeches from the past. So I did the next best thing: I went on the internet.

The first hit gave me the ten best topics for graduation speeches. I was pretty pumped. The second hit linked me to a bunch of graduation speeches by famous people (be happy, by the way that they aren’t here—you would really have to pretend to listen then). Unfortunately, none of their speeches had anything to do with the ten best topics for graduation speeches from my first hit. I moved down to the third hit and it gave another ten topics for graduation speeches, none of which resembled the first two lists. So, I stopped there. I mean, three sources is enough for any research project, right?

While my faith in the experts at google wasn’t entirely rewarded, I also didn’t want to waste all my research efforts. What follows is important, life altering advice cobbled together from the aforementioned lists. And yes, this is on the test.

1) Set goals: remember all those letters and phone calls from your parents where they said they missed you? Yes, they missed you. No, you can’t have your old room back. If they haven’t cleaned out your room yet, it’s only because they’ve been too busy planning ways to spend all that money they will save now that you are out of school. Unless you’re an English major, in which case you may never get a job. For the rest of you: find an apartment, be financially independent, stop calling your parents asking for money, and stop eating pizza twice a week while you are at it. You’ll thank me at your ten year high school reunion.
2) Now that you have graduated, it’s also time to take responsibility for your actions. All those bad grades, missed assignments, forgotten dates, broken printers, the six times your grandmother died when papers were due (everyone wave to your grandmother), bad hair days, lost toothbrushes, empty gas tanks—they weren’t really your fault in college, but you can’t blame your professors anymore. Admit your mistakes, embrace your faults, cut your hair short, wash your clothes more than once a month, and always keep a full tank of gas. Gone are the days when you could just spray deodorant on the outside of your shirt and hope no one notices the shirt has been sitting under your bed for two months. Preparation beats procrastination any day of the week.
3) When you do make mistakes, you must learn from them to build a bright future. I recommend you get this out of the way quickly. Tomorrow, start dating someone you can’t stand, break up, suffer, move on. Take twenty dollars, throw it in the Concho River and lament all the money you wasted. Then start saving for the future (a future of being nice to your boss and living in your own apartment). Buy energy efficient light bulbs and bask in your brightness.
4) As you sit in your brightly lit apartment, staring at your first paycheck, recovering from your manufactured broken heart, find inspiration in the world around you. Actually, I think this should read: find the perspiration around you. Those are the people working hard. Just don’t get too close—the probably stink a little. Wait until they have showered and pester them until their work ethic rubs off on you.
5) If inspiration is slow to strike, don’t give up on your dream. Someone always wins the lottery—why not you?
6) In the pursuit of this dream, sitting on your couch (in your well lit apartment), vow to live by a strict personal code. Discipline breeds performance. Read something everyday, watch less t.v., eat fewer chips (yes, Julios salsa is good—no it does not count as a vegetable), drive slower, laugh, dance like Snoopy at least once a week, and just because there are lunches in the refrigerator at work doesn’t mean they are there for you.
7) Never forget your roots—unless they are filled with bad memories, or you plan to run for political office. Then repress them. You’re supposed to learn from your mistakes (remember number 3?) not just the mistakes of others. But be selective—yes, you were the fastest runner in the third grade and the best speller—unless you are living at home with your mom, who can prove you wrong?
8) Which leads us to focusing on the important things in life. I don’t quite know what those are—cold drinks on a hot day, a tie baseball game with your best hitter at the plate in the ninth inning, hot, fresh tamales on a cold morning, hot fudge sundaes, a cheap cable package, short commencement speeches—you choose your own. If you can’t think of any, find some. Be passionate about something in life.
9) The only real area of agreement among the grad speech experts was number 9. I am supposed to implore you to set high expectations for your self and others. So, shoot for the moon, go for the gusto, head for the hills, run for gold, aim high, run for your lives, raise the bar, have a seat at the bar. Let’s face it—for today, just remember goal number #1. Start there and we’ll talk later.
10) Last but not least, I need to remind you to remember the golden rule. You all know this one—as a rule, gold is good. The more you get, the less likely you are to move in with your parents, the less responsible you must be, the more people you can pay to make mistakes for you, the easier it is to clean up after perspiring, the more dreams you can make true, the more personal codes you need to protect you from the rest of us, the easier it is to cover your roots, the quicker you can enjoy the important things in life, and the higher you can set your expectations for others.

In closing, (this is your cue to sit up straighter and pretend you’ve been listening the whole time), it wouldn’t be proper to have a commencement address by an English professor without quoting some poetry. As you strive for independence, the path will not be easy, but in the words of the great 20th century poet Mic Jager, please remember that “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.”

Peace and good luck.

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

One Response to Graduates Remember the Golden Rule: Gold is Good

  1. Pingback: You Are a Free Agent In This World: Graduate and Earn the Best Life You Can | Consistently Contradictory

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