What every graduate needs to hear when college ends, and what none of them will.


Never been asked to make a commencement speech.

Don’t expect that I ever will be asked.

Should I be asked, I would accept.

But I would not give the speech.

Oh, I would show up on graduation day.

But I would stay at the back of the room.

Beforehand, I would have asked those in charge up on the stage to do this:

  1.  Instruct the graduates to stand, stretch their shorts and get the twists out of their knickers, and enthusiastically wave and salute and mouth a prolonged, genuine “thank you” in the direction of those who made possible their being here as graduating students – their parents, teachers/professors, siblings, spouses, loan arrangers, others. Plus the guy and gal custodians who got up before dawn to get here and, for something approaching minimum wage so they can buy beans for supper, to clean up the place and set up the chairs and make it ready for the graduates.
  1.  Tell the graduates there will be no boring, stuffy, insufferable, spoken speech filled with tiresome truisms that they long, long ago grew weary of.
  1.  Tell them that in lieu of a speech, the would-be speaker – ol’ what’s his name standing at the rear – will greet you at the back of the room and, as you file out, will hand each of you a small, printed card you should put in your billfold or purse and refer to now and then.
  1.  Tell them to not bother reading the card just now, to get on out of here – running, shouting if they want to – and begin the graduation celebration.
  1.  Tell them that my non-delivered but printed speech (Reading Time: 55 seconds, give or take) will make only three points:
  1. You now have your diplomas. Now get out there in the world and get your real education.
  1.  As you make your way in the world, take someone along with you. Encourage them. Help them just as so many have helped you. You may think you made it on your own, but, uh . . .
  1.  Don’t thump others before they have a chance to thump you, as so often seems to happen. The “do unto others . . .’’ bit that you have been taught since K-school or even before really does work, as you know but maybe sometimes have forgotten.

There will be a few blank lines on the card. As you take on life, pause along the way and write in the space the No. 1 point you would make if you were asked to be a graduation speaker. In this blank space, prove you are smarter than I am. Should be easy to do. Really, really easy.

Read and re-read now and then – maybe even commit it to rote — the card I am giving you, and which you are free to change.

Because somewhere along the way, maybe when you least expect it, this teacher of teachers – life – is going to card-check you.


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