Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Commencement Speech for Graduation

The year is racing by so imagine my surprise when I found out it was nearly graduation time for kids in high school and college!  Then I read this and thought 'that's the best graduation speech I've ever heard' (minus the F-bombs in every single sentence).  But the message is true.  And then I thought about what kind of speech I would give (no one has ever asked me to give a commencement speech and probably never will but I digress...) and came up with the following items that I would tell kids just starting out (heavy on the frugal stuff, light on the philosophy):

  • First, I would address kids each year, beginning in ninth grade (by the time kids get to the commencement address at the end of college they have already missed way too many lessons that should have been learned earlier).
  • For high school kids I would tell them: try all kinds of hobbies and experiences, challenge yourself but in a good way (backpack for a month during summer break, don't, for example, see how many tattoos you and your friends can accumulate), join organizations (yes, I know that Boy Scouts, for example, often equates with nerdiness but when you look at the most successful adults, many were in scouting where they learned tons of useful skills that then served them well throughout their lives), don't lock yourself into one social group and be yourself (it really really really won't matter in the grand scheme of your life that the cool kids thought you were so uncool at school or the flip side, it won't matter that you were the coolest kid in high school after you get out of high school).
  • If your high school is going to pay for your advanced education for free, by all means TAKE IT!  Some schools offer a joint high school/community college program that high school kids can do for free thus saving two years of college tuition, other high schools offer beauty school so that students can get licenses as a hair stylist/barber upon completion, and other schools offer welding classes/computer game design/etc (basically if you can learn a marketable skill for free in high school that will help you get a job even though it isn't what you want to do for the rest of your life, take it!  A lot of kids graduate from high school with exactly zero marketable skills which is very sad).
  • Work during high school and college (you don't have to work full time as even a part time job will teach you job skills, give you something to put on your resume, connect you to the world of work, and garner you some business references).
  • Don't get a tattoo during high school or college (a very unpopular sentiment I know but getting all tattooed up when you are young is like picking out a shirt to wear at 18 that you will wear the rest of your life.  Ick). 
  • Take it easy on the drugs and alcohol.  Peer pressure is stupid and so is ruining your life with one drunken/drugged up night during your teenage years (I've met a half dozen teenagers who got drunk, decided to drive,  killed someone, and ended up in prison instead of making it to graduation; this affects them for the rest of their lives and is so preventable).
  • Be self employed.  When you have a few job skills down, take a stab (or two or three or four) at self-employment.  There is nothing better than being able to generate income without the blessing of a boss/corporation/manager/etc.
  • Keep a tight rein on your money.  Don't fall for credit card offers (if you don't have cash to pay for something, you don't need it), save a little of each paycheck for when you are old (yes, you will be old one day and it is best not to be old and penniless), don't loan money to friends, never co-sign for anyone, don't do anything that requires "small monthly payments" (which means pay cash for a car, use the gym at school instead of signing up for a two year gym contract, etc).
  • Don't give into the pressure to go to college if you aren't really the college type.  There are plenty of plumbers/car repair people/etc that make a good living without having gone to college.
  • Don't take out loans for college.  Either get a boatload of scholarships or slow down and pay as you go at the cheapest state school possible.  It is just stupid for kids to be saddled with $800 per month student loan payments for years and years after graduation just because they thought--for four years--that all of the money coming to them was free.
  • Make sure the degree you are working towards will translate into a job at graduation (I've lost track of how many people have graduated with a bachelor's degree in psychology only to realize that you can't be a psychologist without many more years of school and a PhD.  Duh).  Don't even get me started on the usefulness of a degree in philosophy...
  • When you are lonely, turn to a friend or family.  Don't turn to a serious boyfriend/girlfriend or decide to have a baby because your life feels incomplete   Growing pains are natural, and turning over your life before you are even in your 20s to a baby or a SO doesn't bode well for your future.
  • Take care of your health.  At this point you take your teeth/hearing/health for granted.  Years from now you will be happy that you have your teeth/hearing/health when many others are struggling because they overlooked this rule.
  • Go forth and be awesome at whatever you do.  You don't need anyone's permission to be passionate about writing or collecting Star Trek figures, for example.  Be unique, do the things you love, be kind to everyone, help others because you never know when you will need help, be honest and ethical so you will have fewer things coming back to haunt you, don't worry about things (if things happened in the past, know you can't change them; for things that are happening now, handle them instead of worrying; for things that might happen in the future, don't worry.  Make the best decision you can and realize that you will end up where you are supposed to end up).
Happy graduation!


  1. PS I read the link you shared, it was great! I'm going to share it with my niece who just graduated on Saturday :)

  2. I like the part about being honest and ethical and being unique. I would like to tell kids early on about how manipulated they are by advertising and not to (literally) "buy into it" and that it's okay to be different. While I wait outside the high school to pick up my daughter every day, I see one girl after the other go by, all wearing the same thing (jeggings and Uggs). They look like drones. Then I'll see one girl with pink hair or neon green sneakers and I'll think, "Hey she's cool," because she's not afraid to be different. We need more free thinkers.