Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Graduation Speech for the Class of 2008

This speech was inspired by Mary Schmich's essay entitled "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young", which was published in the Chicago Tribune as a column on June 1, 1997. In her introduction to the column, she described it as the commencement address she would give if she were asked to give one.

The column soon became the subject of an urban legend, in which it was alleged to be an MIT commencement speech given by author Kurt Vonnegut in that same year (in truth, MIT's commencement speaker that year was Kofi Annan).  Despite a follow-up article by Mary Schmich on August 3, 1997, in which she referred to the "lawless swamp of cyberspace" that had made her and Kurt Vonnegut to be "one", by 1999 the falsely attributed story was widespread.

In 1999 the essay was set to music, renamed "Baz Luhrmann Presents: Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen): The Sunscreen Song (Class of '99)", or in short "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)" and released on an album by Australian film director Baz Luhrmann.

When the column became a song, Schmich's "wish" came true when Zagreb's Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing started to play the song "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)" at every graduation ceremony.

Below is the commencement address I would give if I were asked to give one. The majority of the content in this piece comes from an unpublished book I wrote entitled: The Do's and Don'ts of an Essential Life: One man's slightly eccentric guide to happiness, self discovery, and making the most of average. Feel free to attribute this speech to anyone you want, so long as I receive all the royalties.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of 2008… it’s hard to see it now but eventually you’ll come to realize that life is precious and short. No matter what happens along the way be sure to live yours accordingly.

Maybe you’re scared about what lies ahead. Maybe you’re too naive to be scared. Maybe you feel nothing at all because you believe that the outcome of your journey has already been predetermined by an inevitable course of events called destiny.

My first piece of advice is to embrace fear. The boldest and best decisions you’ll make in your life will be inspired by fear.

My second piece of advice is to pull your head out. If you’re not scared you should be. You have no idea how unprepared you truly are to deal with the world outside the confines of this institution. The things that matter most in life cannot be found in any textbook I know of. Your real education begins today.

My third piece of advice is to completely ignore any notion of destiny because it simply does not exist. You alone will control the outcome of your journey and the sooner you accept this responsibility the better off you’ll be.

The rest of my advice follows in no particular order of importance.

Always show respect and compassion to those in need. You never know when you might be one of them.

Be honest with yourself and other people. No one will trust you if you’re not.

Remember that good looks don’t last but good character perseveres.


Learn to share in other people’s joy. Jealousy will make you do regrettable things.

Avoid conversations about religion and politics.

Take the time to form opinions but keep them to yourself. Most people don’t care what you think.


Don’t make any big decision without sleeping on it or with it first. It’s amazing the clarity a good night’s sleep can give you.

Have faith, practice faith, but respect the choices other people have made by not pushing your faith on others.

Don’t do anything that will give you a guilty conscience. Life’s hard enough with a clear one.


Practice moderation. Don’t let any one thing dominate your existence. Well rounded people are always more interesting than those who are not.

Keep a positive attitude, always, even when you have nothing to be positive about.

Don’t ignore your ethnic background but don’t let it define you either. Other people are not as consumed with your appearance as you are.

Make time to CELEBRATE even the smallest victories in life.

Remove the word “can’t” from your vocabulary. Unlike moral victories, self-fulfilling prophecies actually do exist.

Find an outlet for PASSION. Untapped passion dissolves into apathy.
Never underestimate the importance of personal hygiene.


Live within your means, don’t carry credit card debt, and invest in real estate as early and often as possible. If you’re able to succeed at just one of these tips you’ll have succeeded at one more than I have.

Believe in yourself. If you don't nobody else will either.

Work hard at being a good friend, but if a friendship ever feels like work end it. Unlike your family members you actually have a choice when it comes to your friends.


Use people’s first names on a regular basis. Behold the power of acknowledgement.

Build a portfolio of unique experiences. Just because you’re an average person doesn’t mean you have to live a life full of average experiences.

Don’t ever use your appearance to make a statement.


Realize early on that it is important if you win or lose and how you play the game is only secondary to winning.

Never use what happened in the past as an excuse for failure in the future. Some of the most successful people I know had lousy childhoods.

No matter what you do for a living take pride in your work. If you do other people will notice and respect you for it.


Remember that the decisions you make today will affect the choices you have in the future.

Learn not to fear death. We were all born into this world, we will all spend a finite amount of time living and breathing, and we will all die at some point in the future. Death is the single most definitive truth of our existence. The sooner you embrace this truth and come to terms with it the sooner you can begin to live your life at peace.

Maybe you’re six foot five, weigh 240 pounds, and run a 4.3 forty. Or maybe you’re five foot nine, 160 pounds, and slow. Maybe you have the perfect mix of good looks, intelligence, and personality. Or maybe you’re a regular looking introvert. Just because you’ll never be a professional athlete or a movie star doesn’t mean your life can’t turn out great. Regardless of your individual circumstances play the hand you were dealt. Stop dwelling on the things you don’t have and start enjoying the things you do.

Lastly don’t always be in such a hurry to reach your destination. When it’s all said and done the majority of your life will be made up of the stuff that happens along the way. If you don’t slow down you might miss it.

1 comment:

Rob said...

I like your style!