Saturday, May 17, 2008

To the Class of 2008

A while back Australian film magnet Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, Romeo and Juliet) did a great graduation commencement address that became a musical montage known as "Everybody's Free to Wear Sunscreen." It can be enjoyed on YouTube HERE. Commencement addresses are among my favorite things. They are delivered around my birthday each year, and are often inspirational, funny, or otherwise memorable. This year one of my almae matres, Harvard University, will be hosting one of my heroes, Jo Rowling.

I loved Baz' sunscreen themed commencement. I love those speakers who talk about hope, possibilities, potential, and even responsibility without being preachy. Bill Cosby has given some doozies.

As for me, I have been quoted by a valedictorian and once wrote a tribute to my professors that I still, occasionally, get a stray email about. "I remember that," my long lost mentor will say. Which is nice. More often than not, ten or twenty years go by and we can no longer recall who said what. We're more likely to recall what we wore or a feeling of pride. Maybe the lilacs were blooming. It's all a blur.

Unless, of course, you are as clever and inspirational as Baz Luhrmann, who is immortalized on YouTube and in the brain of pop-culture trivia addicts like yours-truly.

Here, in any event, are my own hopes for the class of 2008.

    Take risks before you have children. After you've had them you have no business taking anything but a multi-vitamin. But risk taking in your youth builds character and teaches fearlessness.

    Travel. Do it now, while your body can handle it and you don't have a mortgage.

    Wait to marry or have children. You'll be better at both jobs if you give yourself time to grow.

    I don't know a single person who regrets actually keeping those promises to keep in touch. Try. These people on either side of you may know all your ugly secrets, but they know your strengths better than you do, and they are better empowered to give you advice than even your closest family members.

    Vote, but do it after educating yourself. We have dumb politicians because dumb people voted for them in ignorance. Be educated, and make our country better with your informed decisions.

    Thank people who are helpful to you. In the coming years you will be astonished at how often this pays off.

    Never waste time on guilt or worry. Neither has any practical use. Make mistakes, but always think about whether your actions will cause you guilt or worry. If they will, don't act. It's possible to do something you know is technically wrong for the right reason. It's possible to make a calculated error hoping to create a better situation. When you are deliberate about your actions, having thought them through, you are released from the wasted pit of guilt and worry. They're bad for you. I'd rather you be an arrogant jerk who is completely confident in your decisions than a neurotic pain in the backside... and you'll live longer.

    When in doubt, be generous. You'll probably blow the ten bucks on something you'll forget the next day if you don't drop it into the can that kid is holding. You may never forget the smile you get... and even if you do you'll feel great for a few hours, minimum.

    Don't give anyone permission to think for you. Don't enable any person to make you feel bad about yourself. The guilt and worry thing will actually help here.

    Oh, and I think Baz is right about the sunscreen. SPF 30.

Now go be amazing.


  1. Great advice.
    I have one--when faced with a difficult decision--try to imagine which you would regret on your deathbed. It's usually the safe choice. Not always, but usually.

  2. Heck, if I were a valedictorian, I'd be quoting you, too! Very nice post.

    At the moment, I'm very keen on the thanking people thing... I always figure if I'm going to complain when I'm treated badly, I had better thank folks (or tell their boss they're great, depending on the circumstances) when someone treats me well...


  3. YAY!! This is fantastic advice. I'm so glad you shared it. ((hugs))

    And you know, these are things even us grown-ups can think's never too late to start implementing good advice!

  4. The commencement speaker at my undergrad graduation was Cokie Roberts. She was drunk at the time, or at least hungover, but we're pretty sure she was still drunk.

    Now, I know that Duke isn't exactly known for football (we went 0-11 that year, actually), but she made a quip that was highly offensive, I thought.

    Our graduation was held in the football stadium. She said "It's so nice to see this place filled with a bunch of winners for once."

    OK, kinda funny, but SOOOOO not appropriate for a graduation, especially since there were a bunch of family members of football players in attendance (and the players themselves...we do graduate our players, actually).

    I was really not impressed.