Thank you, Dean Wormer, for that forgettable introduction.
So you little turds are finally graduating. Whoop-di-damn-do. Just remember: the only thing extraordinary about you is how much student loan debt you will be carrying.
You think you’ve accomplished something? Turn to your left and look at the guy sitting next to you. That’s right, the one whose GPA is five times lower than his blood-alcohol count. He just got his diploma too.
Which reminds me: it may be unethical, but some prospective employers do check Facebook pages so this is a good time to take down those pictures of yourself with a bong.
You are embarking on a new phase in your life. This is the time when graduating seniors think, “Now I can be an independent adult. I’ll make some cash, get my own place, buy some nice wheels.” Excuse me for a second while I try to stop laughing. Instead, let me say a few words you might be hearing a lot at your first post-graduation job: “Hey, can I get a venti half-caf no whip latte?”
I won’t lie to you. The job market sucks right now. You’ve probably figured that out already from sending out feelers to employers. You have a better chance of converting Mel Gibson to Judaism than of getting a decent job in your field of study.
Recently The New York Times did a study of last year’s graduating class from Drew University. They are not doing well. The highest percentage, 21%, spends its days lying in bed in the fetal position.
Do you hear those church bells from across the quad? Legend has it that they ring every time a student’s dream dies. This reminds me of the old joke: What’s the definition of an optimist? Answer: an accordion player with a pager. I thought the joke was outdated because nobody knows what a pager is anymore. Now I wonder if it’s outdated because nobody knows what optimism is.
I do have some good news though. Mommy and Daddy kept your room just the way you like it. But I’ve also got some bad news. Mommy and Daddy might have to charge you rent so they can stave off foreclosure.
This is the part of the commencement address where the speaker says, “Find your passion and change the world.” Well, your passion has just become obsolete. Technology changes everything so fast that you can’t plan very far ahead and you need to adapt quickly.
But people still want a venti half-caf no whip latte.
Things will get better eventually. I looked into the crystal ball to see what you will accomplish in the future. One of you will be named your state’s “Teacher of the Year” three years running, while another one will turn Russian roulette into a popular reality-TV show. Guess which one will be comfortable financially?
Many of you are thinking that you won’t sell out, that you will follow your muse onto an independent path rather than take a job with the Multinational Conglomerate Corporation Inc. That’s admirable. Then you will receive your first student-loan bill. After you gag, you’ll start wondering, “I wonder if the Multinational Conglomerate Corporation Inc. is still hiring?” If you can still resist, that’s even more admirable.
But if you do become a big honcho with the Multinational Conglomerate Corporation Inc. or start your own business that becomes a Multinational Conglomerate Corporation Inc., I want you to remember one thing: nobody has ever been a success on his or her own. Nobody succeeds in a vacuum.
Even a novelist like Stephen King. He sits at his keyboard for hours every day, alone in a room, creating fictional works solely from his own imagination. But do you think he’s a success all by himself? No. He needs an agent, an editor, a publisher. He needs people who create the machines that bind his hardcover books. He needs people to drive the trucks that deliver the books to the people manning the brick-and-mortar bookstores and the Amazon warehouses. He needs workers in the Asian sweatshops to produce Kindles and Nooks. (Just kidding. Maybe. I haven’t Googled the facts.) He needs marketing and sales people to bring his books to the attention of consumers. He needs the teachers that taught him to appreciate literature. He needs the government that funds the schools that employ those teachers and builds the roads for those delivery trucks. Most importantly, he needs those consumers to have enough disposable income to buy the books. Without all of these people, Stephen King is like the Burgess Meredith character at the end of that Twilight Zone episode – surrounded by written words with nobody, and no way, to read them.
So if you create a successful business, even if it fully expresses your vision, be aware of, and be thankful for, everything and everyone that helped you. Remember also that the people who work for you are not chess pieces to be moved around at random, but fathers and mothers and husbands and wives and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters, people with lives and responsibilities outside of the office. If you treat these workers well and try to give them a stable environment, if you give them a decent wage and decent benefits, if you show that you appreciate their efforts, they will respond with loyalty and increased productivity.
Remember one last thing: unemployed and low-paid people don’t have disposable income to buy the products and services you’re offering, which defeats the purpose of your business, doesn’t it? So the one piece of advice I want to offer, the one mantra I hope you will repeat, is something you didn’t learn during four years at this illustrious institution, but is something I hope you learned from your parents or from your house of worship: Don’t be a douchebag.
Finally, let me close with these words, and I mean them with all sincerity: “Hey, can I get a venti half-caf no whip latte?” Because all this talking has left me famished.