Let’s be honest with our graduates
Graduates all across the country and right here at home will be hearing all sorts of inspirational speeches this weekend.
We’ve all sat through them. You know, the ones with all the flowery speech filled with cliches and catch phrases like, “Follow your dreams,” “Reach for the stars” and “Carve out your own path.” Yadda, yadda, yadda.
All that’s fine and dandy for some, but what I long to hear is someone who finally has the guts to get up there at that podium and tell the truth. I’m not saying the speeches shouldn’t be wonderfully complimentary and full of praise for the graduates. Let’s just be realistic.
Tell those youngsters that life will be tough, but it can be rewarding if they chip in and do their part. Make sure we tell them that they must learn to be responsible for themselves sooner than later – at home and at their jobs. Let them know that despite the fact that they feel the need to decide right now what they want to be when they grow up, chances are that could change – several times over.
I was fortunate enough to be chosen to speak to my own graduating class way back in high school. I admit it. My speech was full of sweet, sappy phrases about leaving our past behind and embarking on a new journey. It’s the standard message. But now that I’m much older and hopefully a little wiser, here’s what I should have said. Here’s the real graduation message high students should hear as they are sitting there in that silly cap and gown, thinking they have just achieved the biggest milestone of their life so far.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, faculty, staff, and fellow graduates. As you sit here today, you are no doubt anxious to hit the real world and embark on a new chapter in life. Take a moment to be proud of what you’ve accomplished.
(Very brief pause.)
There – you’ve had your moment. Now let’s get real.
There are four basic rules for life that you should know.
Rule number one in the real world is make a point to show up. Show up for class in college. Your classes will go a whole lot smoother if you don’t sleep in and skip out. It’s really that simple. Just show up. Life in general will be better if you choose to show up and do your part. Same goes if you decide to go straight into the workforce. Show up when you’re supposed to. I heard a quote recently that said, “The world is run by people who show up.” Be one of those people who show up.
The second thing is to learn to take care of yourself. Do it BEFORE you leave home. I’m pretty sure I didn’t see any mothers going to college with their children so they could clean their room and do their laundry. Learn how to clean up after yourself. Your college roommate didn’t sign up to live in a pig sty. Become independent. Learn how to run the washing machine, change a tire, replace a fuse, sew on a button.
The third thing to remember is that no job is beneath you. Don’t be discouraged if you find yourself flipping burgers, digging ditches, making coffee, running errands or cleaning up after other people. Sometimes you have to start at the bottom. You aren’t simply entitled to a fabulous salary right away. Don’t expect to be making big bucks right off the bat, even if you have a sparkly new diploma. You will have to earn your way and your paycheck.
Last, but certainly not least, you should never be afraid to fail. You will hear all sorts of people tell you to pick a major, find a job and nail down your future as soon as possible. I’m here to say that you should be prepared to change majors (maybe a few times), change jobs, change careers. Life is short, and it’s way too short to spend it toiling away at a career you hate. Don’t be afraid to change direction. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you planned. Don’t be afraid to change majors just because you’ve been telling yourself since you were a kid that you want to be a doctor. Sometimes you have to try a few different paths to find your way.
You need to realize that the real world is way tougher than you can possibly imagine. There are jobs to be done and bills to be paid. This is just the beginning. If you thought high school was tough, things are likely going to get a whole lot tougher.
But with a little luck and by the grace of God, someday you will be able to “Follow your dreams,” “Reach for the stars” and “Carve out your own path.” It might not be easy, but 99 percent of the time anything that’s worth the effort isn’t necessarily going to be easy.
Good luck to all graduates.
Mullally is a Tribune writer.