… We continue our annual tradition of A REAL WORLD Commencement Address to college graduates. This year’s is updated. Maybe our new BFF, UNC Chancellor Doogie, will risk his UNC Faculty Pension and invite us one day. Stranger things have happened. Well actually “stranger things” have NOT happened! …. We’re ready if Doogie does call.
Today you are the kings and queens of your domains, lauded and applauded by parents, grandparents, fellow graduates, yourself and geegaw hawkers selling graduation memorabilia. Enjoy it, soak it up, wallow in it for tomorrow you enter that mythical life stage referred to as “WHEN YOU GROW UP”. The myth behind that myth is that such a time and place actually exists. Like everything else you have been told in your life, fully half of what I will tell you in the next 10 minutes is unadulterated bunk. The challenge for you is determining which half. …. (CLUE: If it sounds scary and yucky …. its likely the TRUE stuff.)
A show of hands please … how many of you in this college graduating class were either Homecoming Queen, Quarterback, Chief Cheerleader, or Student Body President in HIGH SCHOOL? I see a lot of hands, cool.
Now, how many of you were Homecoming Queen, Quarterback, Chief Cheerleader, or Student Body President here in COLLEGE ? Whoa, where did all those hands go?
Reality Slap … you competed against 100s in high school … against 1,000s here in college. Now you will compete with 1,000,000s not only here in America but all around the world. If you like to be “the prettiest, the smartest, the fastest, the strongest, the coolest” the best way to do that is to run back home and go to work for “Daddy’s company” … an option not to be discounted if available.
If you grew up in a traditional nuclear family (that includes fewer of you than ever in our fruit basket turnover culture) you are used to being the apple of somebody’s eye. You have always been “special”. Even on this campus you have been mesmerized that only “the best and the brightest” matriculate here. That same elitist mantra is preached on EVERY college campus. Hadji is being told that at The University of Calcutta right now.
Since the age of three you have maintained that much of what you had to “do” was “not fair”. Going to bed at 8 PM, “eating your vegetables”, and Saturday morning classes is going to ratchet up really quickly to The IRS, Alzheimer’s, and “superficial brown-nosers” getting promotions you think you deserve.
All of 2008’s crop of “the best and the brightest” get summarily dumped into the adult work force. A lot of you “eye apples” are going to be scrambling for a limited number of brass rings. The ratio of brass rings to “eye apples” is forever out of synch. A year from now, and every year thereafter, a new crop of “eye apples” will be competing for “your” brass ring. ….. sez you.
Brass ring distribution is “fixed”. They invariably go to determined people who persistently work hard and smart. Another of Life’s inherent “unfairs”…. !!!
Since you were toddlers, obnoxious relatives and strangers in malls have asked you “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. Starting tomorrow that changes to “and what do you do for a living?” You don’t need a legitimate answer to that rhetorical question. Fake it like most of us do, but work on your answer. “Consultant” and “considering my options” are popular deflecting responses.
You have heard the philosophical quandary “Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” That worries you because you consider yourself “a good person”. We will deal with that illusion in a moment.
I am unable to tell you “why babies die”, “why nuns get hit by Mack Trucks”, and “why Ol’ Roy wore the Jayhawk sticker”. I also don’t understand “how MapQuest works”, “why Oprah is so popular”, or “why anyone would order much less eat a giant triple bacon monster burger at Hardees’”. The plight of “Good People” will not cause you as much concern as it’s reverse quandary….
“Why do Good Things happen to Bad People?”
When I said “Bad People” you thought of Adolph Hitler. Every one does. Running close behind Adolph in New Millenium polls are Joseph Stalin, Jeremiah Wright, Dick Cheney, Mike Krzyzewski, and Eve Carson’s killers. If you truly waste your “Bad People” vote on a sports coach, you are in for such a shock in “real life” that your chance of surviving corporate America or marriage are even worse than Mike Nifong becoming Attorney General.
One does not have to mastermind the annihilation of 6,000,000 Jews to be “a Bad Person”. Look up and down the row you are sitting on. Now lean in real close so I can whisper a secret to you. “There are “bad people” on that row with you.” Say it ain’t so BobLee. Alas, it is.
In the years to come you will have “a bad person” as a “boss”. You will have “bad people” as co-workers … as clients … as neighbors … as business partners … sitting behind you at a movie theater … and all around you in heavy traffic. I would include “as spouses” but I’ve scared you too much already with this. Those “bad people” will win various competitions over you and you will see them enjoy the fruits of their “bad person behavior”. You may even be the “bad person” someone else encounters. ….. uh oh.
Rationalize that “they will get their comeuppence one of these days”. That is another myth about “Life”. There simply are not enough “comeuppences” to handle all the “bad people” in society. That is why many of us chose to believe in “the eternal firey depths of Hell”. That obnoxious neighbor playing his stereo at 3 AM and that gross guy who didn’t wash his hands in the public restroom will end up there. Thinking otherwise really messes up your mind.
You think you have “common sense” aplenty AND a “great sense of humor”. In addition you, in your estimation, are “a good person” and are “a people person”. Congrats, those self-assumed qualities will get you hired as a telemarketer for a discount mortgage company or a waiter at Applebee’s. If you strive to be “a good person” for any reason more complex than “so I can live with myself” then your ulterior motives will be your downfall.
If asked to grade the other students on your dorm floor or your fraternity or sorority mates you would not score all of them so high on “common sense”, “sense of humor”, or overall affability. Guess what, they scored you lower than you would like to believe too. Out there in the “real world” the grading is even tougher and non-stop.
As to “what you want to be”, don’t fret about that one UNLESS you think you actually do know; then be worried. Your current view of any occupation is so idealized as to be unrecognizable five years from now. You might spend your entire life searching for “your niche” and learn 50 years from now that “itinerant job changer” was your true calling.
Succeeding mostly involves mundane every day issues that your pointy-headed professors never bothered to mention. It ain’t about “theory” it’s about RESULTS. Did you take a course in Show Up Every Day 101 or Nose To Grindstone 102? I didn’t think so.
Unless you opt for the tenured fairyland of academia or the mind-numbing environment of “guvmint work” you will have to PRODUCE to get ahead. …. uh oh. The hope of some among us to convert America to a socialist state is still a decade or so away. By the time that happens, you will have flushed out your college classroom constipation
NOTE: This is being written in 2008. That “socialist state” turnover might get jump-started if America doesn’t WAKE UP.
Those personality tests you took as freshmen four years ago … you checked all the positive qualities so you could get into the popular (make lots of $$$$) majors. You should have checked “Forest Ranger” as you will learn at or about your 40th birthday. The ratio of disgruntled lawyers or dentists to disgruntled Forest Rangers is 274 to 1. Think about that…. REALLY, I mean it. Why so few disgruntled Forest Rangers?
Go forth and “change the world” will become go forth, pay the mortgage, what is FICA, and what’s for dinner. CLUE: The world will “change” with/without your involvement. Ask your Daddy and his Daddy.
If you remember nothing else from these remarks, remember this. YOU will be responsible for what happens to you ‘tween this diploma and “check-out time”. You will at various junctures try to assign that responsibility to your parents, your boss, your spouse, the government, God, and a combination of those aforementioned “bad people”. The sooner you accept accountability for your ever-evolving life circumstances the better you will appreciate them and actually exert some slight control over them.
A number of your classmates will never grasp that concept. The sooner you delete those delusional yahoos from your life orbit the better.
There will be times when you should “go along to get along“ and times to “stand up for what’s right”. Just do Rock, Paper, Scissors. You will likely get those times mixed up like the rest of us usually do.
Get a DVD copy of a season of “The Office”. Every one of you will likely serve a sentence of some indeterminable length in such a stiflingly depressing environment … and remember EVERYBODY thinks they are Jim or Pam (the cool guys @ Duffin Mifflin) …. But many of you are Dwights and Michaels (the abject morons @ Duffin Mifflin) …. Realizing you might be “a Dwight” will be a seminal moment in your life.
I wish I could tell you that reading these columns could “Dwight & Michael proof you” but, alas, it can’t. We have our share of wrinkled browed-mouth breathers around here too …. Duh.
Collect all the bromides, homilies, and Far Side cartoons you can. Stick them on your bathroom mirror, your desk, your dashboard, and certainly on your refrigerator with magnets provided by your local pizza delivery service. Anything other than The Serenity Prayer is hokum.
Even amid all the “bad people” and “circumstances” there are INCREDIBLE OPPORTUNITIES FOR HAPPINESS “out there”. I’ve found more of those than I often think I deserved …. but in retrospect, I have merited them. Hopefully you will too. Good Luck!
….. you’re still mulling over that “Good Things …. Bad People” thingie aren’t you? Ask your preacher about that one on Sunday. He’ll look at you and smile …. “so you read BobLee too, huh?”