I have to confess: I love graduation speeches. They are corny—yes—but I love their optimism, their buoyancy, their excitement, their belief. Graduation speeches are like TED talks without any of the substance, just the essence of inspiration and enthusiasm. But, unlike TED talks, graduation speeches are hella inaccurate, full of the kind of clichés and outright lies that, in their vagueness, evade fact-checkers’ pens. Here are a few of the lies you’ll be told at graduation:
Follow your passion and you will go far. More like: follow your passion till you reach a dead end, tweak it a bit so it fits into a single industry/existing position, and you will go far. Example: the wannabe New Yorker writer who ends up penning listicles.
You have to pay your dues. Well, yeah, unless you start your own company, you aren’t going straight to CEO—you’re going to start at an entry-level position along with 98% of college graduates. I’m not sure that’s really paying your dues. You aren’t going to be shining shoes. It’s just part of the process.
I wish I were in your shoes. Your shoes are probably sweaty with nerves and definitely a lot cheaper than the speaker’s. The speaker doesn’t want to be in your shoes. The speaker wants to be at the podium, getting the major $$ to feed you clichés.
You’re just beginning. Then why am I SO TIRED?
Be true to yourself and you will go far. This phrase has within it the shadow of the saying “To thine own self be true,” which is used SERIOUSLY even though POLONIUS—you know, the blathering fool—said it in Hamlet. SHAKESPEARE IS LAUGHING AT US FROM HIS GRAVE. Whew. Ok. So, “thine own self,” especially when you’re a high school or college senior, is maybe not all so trustworthy. You should try instead to be true to someone you admire—like, what would Jesus do, except with your own person. Or not. Jesus is definitely trustworthy.
I could not be prouder of you. LOL. This person doesn’t even know you! This person might even have kids of their own! I bet this person was prouder in the moment their own kid learned how to open the foot-operated trashcan than he/she is of you at this moment.
Only you can be the change you want to see in the world. You can also end up being the change you don’t want to see in the world—if you work for Walmart or a cigarette company or Coca Cola. Keep your ambitions small for now: try not to make the world worse.
You should get out of your comfort zone. Well, yes, you should take risks, but this doesn’t mean, ditch your English degree and go straight to Silicon Valley. Just, like, push yourself.
I’m humbled. The person talking to you probably has multiple graduate degrees and/or a multimillion dollar home. They also graduated from college. They are not humbled.
Here’s the secret… It’s not a secret.
It is an honor to be here…though I wish Yale had asked me to speak.
This is the first day of rest of your life. Ok, this isn’t a lie, but it’s worse: it’s a truism.
You are “ready” for the job market. Hahahahaha!!! In 2011, the unemployment rate among people with bachelor degrees was 53%! Also, did you know you can’t show up to work late with a severe hangover and expect to nap through the first hour of meetings and get well-reviewed?? Also that work is just entirely different in every way from school and you’ll have no idea what you’re doing for the first few weeks????
Grades matter. See all those smug summa and magna cum laude students?? They’re not going to be looking so smug at your 20-year reunion.