By Chris Warren.
In the next month or two, high school and college seniors will be graduating and moving forward with their lives. The well intended commencement speeches typically include a list of pithy if not outright condescending advice for the graduates. It’s not too late for those who have been asked to give these speeches to carefully edit themselves and avoid patronizing clichés. The list could go on for pages and pages, but here are a few of the “greatest hits” to be avoided for all time:
Do what you love and the money will follow. This is at the top of my list as the biggest heap o’graduation shit that has ever been spoken. Any activity you are passionate about but can’t support yourself with is called a hobby. There is no cosmic law that states anyone can make money doing anything if only they love doing it enough. Since life is not a one way street, those who insist on believing this ridiculous idealism must also accept with it the equally foolish converse argument: One cannot earn a living doing something they hate. I’m going to settle this nonsense with some easily quantifiable earthly reality: There are tens of millions more people toiling away at barely tolerable but reasonably well paying occupations than there are making a decent buck at their dream job. Acceptable alternative advice: If you love something that much, the money (or lack of it) won’t matter.
Be yourself. I don’t get this one. How can you not “be yourself?” Taken to its ultimate conclusion, this lame pop psychology narcissism is just another excuse for every individual to think the world must form around them. But the world is full of uncomfortable circumstances where you might have to be polite when you don’t mean it, be supportive when inside you don’t agree, or be cooperative with people you think are incompetent. Those who are dishonest or fake about who they are are being themselves. Cheerfully going along with something you don’t like for diplomatic reasons or to attain a legitimate goal is not the same as willfully involving oneself in objectionable, immoral, or illegal activities. Acceptable alternative advice: Acting is an important life skill; learn to adapt your outward behavior to any situation even if it means being insincere.
Think outside the box. This tiresome business buzzword has leaked into academia and is the only point on the list that sort-of comes close to being useful wisdom. Unfortunately, it has evolved into a catch all vindication for dumb ideas and dead end personal goals. Thinking outside the box works best for older people who have learned from prior successes and failures and have enough restraint to know how far they can go. Less discerning young people are inclined to be different just for the sake of being different with no clear end game other than to clash with tradition. The “box” existed as long as it has for a reason. Some things just plain work and do not need to be challenged. Acceptable alternative advice: Thinking outside the box is fine, but only if the method used is better than what is already in the box.
By time young people reach graduation, they have spent many years exposed to a wide range of viewpoints from the internet and are far more adept at spotting a recycled idea than us older types were at their age. They are too smart to fall for dusted off hollow maxims that are accurate to a limited degree but have no mass appeal to today’s graduates and do not work for 99% of the people who try them. The opportunity to effect the lives of young people is very fleeting; commencement speakers should not waste the few minutes they have spreading unrelatable one-liners that at best are poorly chosen, and at worst full blown lies.