Friday, May 27, 2005

Pomp and Circumstance

It's that time of year again, when a fresh crop of graduates hits the streets. Are you a graduate this year? Then listen up.

Congratulations you grads. Today's your day. You made it through four, or five, or six years of college, and by tonight, you'll have a diploma, or as my wife calls it "a fancy receipt." It should be a happy occasion for you. It was for me!

Much has been made of the college education. It seems an irrefutable fact that having one is essential to "making it" in this country. I want to remind you all that it's still possible to get one of these pieces of paper, and still not "make it". There are scores of unhappy, overeducated people working at jobs below their "diploma." How do you know you won't be one of them? Here's some hints:

1) Only you know what makes you happy. Not your spouse. Not your family. Not your closest friend. Only you. The more you know what makes you happy, the better off you'll be. Whenever you look at the successful people of our times, you find that they often started with something they were happy with. Are you doing that?

2) Passion is underrated. People hear passion, and think about that strong love/lust that they feel in the beginning of a relationship with someone. But I want you to consider its other definition: boundless enthusiasm. You know that feeling you get in the morning, just as you're waking up, when you remember that you were going to do "something", and that something made you excited? You couldn't wait to get up and get at it? That's passion. Do you have it for what you've just studied?

3) You only have a limited time. The life expectancy of the modern American is towards the 80s. That gives you sixty years. I'm down to my last forty. This is either a lot of time, or it's too little time. No matter how you slice it, it's the only time we've got. Think about the first two questions in light of this.

4) You're not done learning. You're never done learning. Did you think that by earning this diploma you're finally able to lean back and say "I'm done with learning?" And I'm not talking about book learning. I'm talking about learning about people, about yourself. I'm talking about learning what's current, what's next, and what's on the horizon. If there's one thing a diploma proves (almost): it proves you can learn. Will you keep doing it?

The diploma you'll be looking at tonight is one measure of accomplishment. It's a stepping stone. But that's all it is. And it's not the only stepping stone. Don't delude yourself into thinking that this paper entitles you to anything. Don't believe the hype that a diploma will give you security. It doesn't.

The longer I think about it, the more I recognize how close to the truth my wife is: a diploma is sometimes nothing more than a receipt. Build your life answering the questions above. If you're like me, twenty years from now, you may not even remember where your diploma is.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent advice for both young as well as old. Here's Stephen King's words of wisdom at the U. of Maine 2005, which also includes audio: