Tuesday, May 23, 2006

My Commencement Address

One fantasy that I have had my entire life is that just once I would love to give the commencement address to the graduating class of a high school or college. It wouldn’t have to be a big school. A few dozen mortarboards in front of me would be fine.

I’ve done plenty of public speaking in my life, but it’s mostly been corporate presentations or training or some sort of church teaching. What I really want to do is face a group of skulls of mush who think that they know everything and impart upon them my half-century of wisdom. I figure I’d have plenty to say.

Actress Jodie Foster recently got her chance when she gave the commencement address to graduates at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. I’m not sure exactly what her credentials were that got her the gig. Well, okay, she did graduate twenty years ago from rival school Yale. I guess I can’t say that. My mba from a prestigious private school and my stellar career in marketing makes for a good résumé, but not much star power.

Oh, and she’s got four Oscar nominations and two wins. That beats my recent victory in the Pinewood Derby at church.

Of course, any Hollywood type with a penchant for left-wing activism can’t be satisfied with merely reminding graduates that this is the first day of the rest of their life. Or that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. No, she was obliged to insult the very country that gave her the right to speak to the graduates in the first place. And she didn’t disappoint us in that regard.

She told the graduates that the county is worse off than it was four years ago. Regardless of who is in power, when either side uses the term “four years ago”, it is euphemistic for bashing the President. So a free Iraq, lower taxes, a booming stock market, and virtually no unemployment are all Bush’s fault.

She also ragged on the administration for the “disastrous and shameful” handling of Hurricane Katrina. Hey, lady. I was there. The place was a mess. You think you could’ve done better? Anyway, both the mayor and the governor are Democrats. There’s plenty of blame to go around.

Okay, I’ll cut her some slack. After all, she graduated from an Ivy League school.

If I had been in front of that audience (or any appreciative audience, for that matter), I could have summed up my entire speech in three words: “Never stop learning.”

Well, maybe four words: “Never ever  stop learning.”

Don’t ever think that you know it all. You’re just beginning. You haven’t learned anything yet. You’ve just learned how  to learn.

School doesn’t teach you anything. It teaches you how to organize your life. It teaches you how to do research. It teaches you how to figure things out for yourself. Then you spend the rest of your life doing just that.

When I interview people for a job, I rarely care what kind of degree they have. I only care that they finished something. You don’t learn stuff for my job in college. But I need to know that the people I hire know how to learn. And want  to learn.

They need to display to me an insatiable desire to do better. To figure things out for themselves. Not just to think “outside the box”, but to figure out how to build a box and then build a better one.

There. That’s my graduation speech. Now I’ve just got to wait for my phone to ring from some Ivy League college president wanting me to say the same things to his graduates.

But why should I? They could just come here and read it for themselves.

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