On graduating into the future: a commencement address

Tomorrow – Tuesday – I am graduating. With this is mind I’ve written a commencement speech. Commencement speeches are full of wise words and sage advice, lessons from those who’ve learnt and parables from those who haven’t. Essentially, they are go-get-em’s filled with encouraging words. I’ve tried to adhere to that form while swearing. You don’t hear enough swearing in commencement speeches.

NB: I am available to perform this for a reasonable fee if Tessa Sanderson or Joanne Latham fail to turn up. Other universities: commissions can be left as comments.

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The people that sit before me now are changed. They may not know it, or think of themselves as being irrevocable but they have transformed, whether it be to adults, to academics, to advocates of education; they are all now graduates, and they still will be once they de-robe themselves. Congratulations. You have succeeded. You have made your parents proud, to the point where they are fit to burst.

There will be photographs and celebrations and further congratulations after this, ones that will probably mean more to you than what I say here. Take them, they are yours to collect.

But first: Turn to your left. Look at the person sitting next to you. You may not know their name, but in twenty years time when you think back to this moment, possibly when your packing your own children off to Universities, their face will be all you can recall. And that’s not a bad thing, no matter how awkward you feel now. The person sitting next to you may have taken a different path to get here. In front of me, the fuck ups sit next to the drifters, the drifters sit next to the choosers, who, heaven forbid, chose to attend. And yet, now there are no barriers between you. Just the arms of slightly worn chairs that have seen better days. One and the same, all of you.

Before you all head off in different directions there are some things worth knowing first. You have changed, some of you in major ways, some of you in less significant ways. A University education has brought you out a different person to what you were before. Now you must continue to evolve. Realising what you want to be, what you want to do is the first step. Some of you will have already decided, some of you will have already achieved, or be on your way to achieving , this. Great. But it’s not enough any more. You have to figure out not just where you fit in but how to fit in. Stand out, push boundaries, don’t be afraid to fail. Failing’s okay, some of us do it all the time.

University isn’t the ending, it’s the beginning. The beginding. Now is not the time to stop because you have graduated. Push on, be educated some more, drive determined towards what you really want to do, build yourselves an imaginary pedestal, better still a plinth in your mind and put yourself on it. Be brash, be bold, be confident but not arrogant. If three years ago you were eager to be better than you were then, now you should be striving to become better than you are right now at this very moment.

In daydreaming moments you may see your future as rosy, but getting to where you want will be anything but. You will be rejected, told you are under-qualified, told you are overqualified, told you just aren’t good enough. Tell them bollocks. With a capital B. Bollocks. You are a graduate from the University of [insert whichever institution you went to here], damnit! Don’t let them get in your way. The only person in your way is yourself, and only then it should be at the mercy of others. You are unstoppable, baby. Don’t you ever forget that.

Forgetting. Forgetting is for when you’re old, when you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. Now that you’re in the prime of your lives the time is ripe for amassing, for knowing, for learning, for growing. You have learnt some great things here, don’t forget them. Sadly, you’re young over-active memories mean you won’t be able to forget that time Roger got his arse out but file it away somewhere behind Peter Elbow and Steve Neale but just in front of Laura Mulvey. You can forget when you’re old and you’re all lightyears away from that yet. Even you, Post Grads.

They say age is just a number, which is just a clever way of saying a number is just a number. Like a 2:1 or 2:2 or a 1st. They are just numbers squashed together or with sts or nds after them . See? A degree has not been wasted on me. What your degree boils down to, though, is just a nice bit of letter-headed paper that your mischievous little niece will crayon a picture of a horse with wings over. It is not you. It will not make you and it should not become you. Don’t let your degree, and whichever bracket you fell into, define you. Your degree might feel like the proudest achievement in the world today and you’d be right to feel that way, just don’t think of it as your future written down. Other things will come along: achievements will be bigger and better and, hopefully, more frequent; pride will manifest itself in events that will humble this one. Today is today. Be proud now, it is your right. But the tomorrows that come have the potential to bring more. Invest in them, it might be worth it.

To end, there is only one thing I can ask of you. Graduates: give life Hell. Make the most of it. If you’re only here once I implore you to give it your best shot. It is yours to do with what you will. See the dreams and chase them. Fruition will bring success, but the chase will bring fervour, passion, excitement and maybe even happiness. Surely there’s no better way to live a life?

To quote the Mamas & the Papas song, go where you wanna go and do what you wanna do.

Once more, congratulations.

For proper words of encouragement written and spoken by people with status rather than an egomaniac like me, click through

For the best commencement speech on the internet scroll back up. The video below comes a close second.

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