So it’s graduation for a bunch of kids we remember being in diapers, riding tricycles, and going to kindergarten.  I know that Bill Gates has the best graduation speech ever and Buz Luhrmann had that song that we thought was the shit about Always Wear Sunscreen, but I thought perhaps I should throw my hat in the ring. 

So I’m just guessing that graduation day was one of those days you looked forward to with the idea that you would, in fact, finally be considered an adult and allowed to do as you damn well pleased.  Then, you heard the pomp and circumstance, got panicky, sentimental, and waxed poetic about your childhood before finding a graduation party kegger to relieve all thought.  Again, just a guess.  And I wonder if somebody had stood up there and told us the important things in life if we would have listened to them?  I might have, but I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it either.

I’m pretty sure none of us have all the answers, and obviously, if I did, I’d have a lot more money and a national best seller, but that would be just too easy, now wouldn’t it?  But here’s what I’d say:

Congratulations class of 2011!  I’m here today to speak to you not because I’m the smartest person or because I’m a rich person or married to the president.  I’m here because I tell it like it is, and this is how it is:

The real world does make you an adult.  It expects you to work and clean up after yourself and get some form of education or training or at least a job.  And amazingly enough, it expects you to buy your own food instead living in your mom and dad’s basement for the rest of your life and becoming Brad Paisley’s Online posterchild.

Speaking of living with your parents, the real world doesn’t like excuses.  You know what I’m talking about, the ones that mom and dad have been making for you for the last 18 years that spoiled you… Yeah, they don’t work in the real world.  Nobody in the real world cares whether you have ADD or whether your dog died, they just care that you show up every day, on time, and do your damn job while you’re there.  They could care less if traffic was bad, the electricity went off, or if you’re just not in the mood to work today.

Another thing about the real world?  We expect you to do your laundry, because honestly, nobody likes a foul-smelling co-worker or friend.  You should have outgrown the hatred of baths when you were 13.  Plus, we’re not big fans of the sniff test either.  It may be okay in college, but after that, it’s pretty obvious whose clothes are wrinkled and a little on the ripe side.  Oh, and we’re not gonna like working next to you if you wear enough perfume to be an old lady or enough Axe to be a middle schooler.  No thank you.  Keep it clean and classy.

As for family, it’s best to forgive and forget and you better damn well hope they do the same!  You only get one and they may not be what you would have picked out and you may be ready to run away from them now, but they have the same genetics and you might need a kidney someday.  Just sayin’. 

Money.  I’d like to tell you the best things in life are free, but really, you can buy an awful lot of happiness.  It buys you cars that don’t break down constantly.  It buys you nice clothes so you look presentable despite your arm-length snake tattoo at a job interview.  It pays for your mom and dad’s nursing home care that you never pondered having to pay for.  It buys tutu skirts for your daughter and cell phones for your teenager.  You know, the one you swore you’d never have because you know how bad you were…  Yeah, that one.  It buys airplane tickets to visit your sister in California and bologna sandwiches for your sack lunch you take to work so you can afford to go to California.  It pays for wedding rings, starter homes, and baby cribs.  It pays for all the good trappings in life.  And the only way to have it, unless of course you’re the child of a Buffett, a Gates, or a Hilton, is if you work for it.  It sounds sucky, but there’s really no better feeling than that of accomplishment.

See, I’m not telling you anything you haven’t already heard, but maybe you just need a reminder that what lies ahead of you is a world far better than what you’ve known with the molds you’re about to break out of.  When you walk out that door to wherever you are going, you can start over.  You no longer have to be Johnny Pee Pants, the boy who wet his pants in P.E. in 1st grade when Kelsy Rae hit you in the gut with a baseball.   You no longer have to be Joe the class clown or Kate the boring studier.  You can finally be you and I hope when you get there, you remember who that is.  And I hope that the person you become is a good person because life will be full of shitty situations and even worse people, but I hope you’re more than that. 

I hope that you want to be the best friend they turn to when things go wrong, or the worker that everybody wants a desk next to, or the guy who makes a lot of money but only uses it to take his kids to McDonald’s and go fishing, or the girl that goes back to her hometown to run for mayor or fix up the main street as a restaurant district.  I don’t really care if the whole world knows your name or if you are just the whole world to your mom, son, and your dog, Teddy. 

What I do want is to know that you didn’t steal from someone, or shoot them because you didn’t like what they said, or quit working because the welfare check was more than you were making at the QuikTrip.  I want to know that you mastered life as it was handed to you – that you didn’t fall apart (at least not for very long) and you had relationships that made someone cry when good and bad things happened to you and you found your way when it didn’t seem like you could.  For most people, life isn’t necessarily becoming a rock star or an NFL player, it’s about becoming who you were meant to be and never forgetting where you came from.  For I know no greater way to judge a person (which I know I shouldn’t do, but in the real world – it happens all the time) than by the way he treats others in his little section of the world.

So kick off your snotty high schooler shoes, buckle up your big girl and boy belts, and do what you gotta do for the rest of your life with the invincibility, audacity, conviction, and emotion of an 18 year old getting a diploma wearing only flip flops and boxers under his robe on graduation day.

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