As I look out upon the Class of 2014, I reflect upon the hope I see in each of your impossibly young faces. I see your confidence that your ascent to an adult place in the world is complete. The grownup world is yours to take and change for the better, and then to remake for your own, undoing all the injustice wrought upon it by the generations before you. And as I see the anticipation of that imminent power, the righteousness that shines forth from each of you, I have but this single thought:
Look, let me shave a few years off of this dawning for you. You are going to start out with high hopes and a great deal of belief in your own potential. The world and everything in it is yours. Power! Responsibility! Excitement! Authority!
Get real. You just got on the bottom step of a stalled escalator. Be patient. Make friends with the people around you. You’ll be here a while.
That’s not to say the years you just spent in school were entirely useless. After all, to paraphrase Mr. Fulghum, everything I need to know about the world I learned in River Forest grade schools:
1. Authority will always let you down.
2. Terrible things happen for no reason.
3. Rules exist to improve life for the rulemakers and the majority, in that order. Disregard them accordingly.
4. People do not mature. They learn to hide immaturity better.
5. Sooner or later, the common wisdom will be proven wrong.
6. People die or move or grow or for whatever reason disappear from your life, but your life goes on.
7. Beware those purporting to act in your interest.
8. Grownups lie.
9. Authority admires independence and self-reliance only in theory.
10. “Go with the flow” means “Shut up and keep your head down”.
So at least you’re set there. Be glad you’re free of school. That’s what you’re really celebrating today. No more classes, no more books, no more parroting of educational theory and short-term memorization of trivia. By the way, I’m forty years old, I’ve had a successful and varied seventeen-year career, I’ve never used anything I learned in algebra, biology, or chemistry anywhere in life, and no one on earth outside school will require notecards to prove you didn’t cheat. So you can run over after the ceremony and call BS on any teachers or parents who assured you those were critical life skills. Tell them I said you could.
What I would tell you to do is reject the responsibility heaped upon you by the two preceding generations. Their dirty secret is that they’re heaping it on you because they didn’t do squat with it. The Baby Boomers set out to change the world, but then decided (correctly) that it would be more fun to have sex, take drugs, make money, and then dump the problem on Gen X. Gen X moped about the passed buck, drank away twenty years, and left the mess for you. Those two demographics didn’t so much change the world as borrow it for a while and return it unwashed and low on gas. And now they want you to wash it and fill ‘er up.
I advise you to say no. Someone will get caught when the music stops, but you don’t have to volunteer. You can stop trying to fulfill your parents’ dreams of changing the world, and instead do what they did: Make some money and have some fun. Odds are that’s what you’re going to do anyway, y’know? I mean, every generation feels like they inherited a dying world from their parents and sets out to put things right, slowly realizing that the world works the way the world works, with or without their participation, and that it’s way nicer to sit in the backyard and drink beer with your friends and just make your own microscopic corner of the great big world as nice as you can.
It isn’t your responsibility to change the world. It’s your responsibility, to yourself, to be happy in it.
So get to work, Class of 2014. Let’s have some fun out there.