Quite honestly, I have no idea who spoke at my commencement twenty years ago, nor do I remember anything he/she said in the speech. I do remember Mike McGuire, our salutatorian (that’s Greek for “the warm-up act”), quoting a line from a Def Leppard song in his speech. Unfortunately, though, it didn’t quite fit the context of his message. (I still applaud his effort, though, to slip a little rock and roll into the affair.) Needless to say, the contents of a graduation speech are just words that are so easily forgotten.
With twenty years of hindsight as my guide, here’s a graduation speech that would have been memorable:
Starting today, most of the men will gain three pounds a year. However, you’ll only notice the weight gain when it’s too late: the night before a job interview when you’re trying on a suit, a week before a cruise when you realize you’ll be shirtless the whole time, the day your 20-year high school reunion announcement shows up in the mail, and so forth. It won’t matter if you become a doctor or an auto mechanic. The male-pattern migration of muscle from the chest southward to flab over the abs knows no occupational exceptions.
Starting today, most of the women will feel like they never have the perfect pair of shoes for the outfit they’re wearing at the moment. You may have Zen-like moments when you find those Ferragamo pumps in the perfect shade of gold to match your purse, but your occupational requirements will dictate otherwise. Only the lawyers on TV will wear stiletto heels all day to show off their gams and accent the thigh-high business suit to parade in front of a jury. Real-life attorneys wear comfortable shoes.
I’m going to tell you a little secret that many adults, possibly some of your parents, will want to kill me for revealing: We’re still winging it. Even at our ages, each new day presents new and unique challenges, and we’re still making our way. Over time, you just get better at faking it.
I could tell you a bunch of other stuff like “When facing life’s toughest challenges, never back down” or “Never settle”. That’s all fine and dandy, but what does it mean? That’s the whole reason you have your whole lives in front of you. You get to find out what it all means – and when you do, let me know. It might make a better graduation speech. With that said, I can promise you that when you get together for your twenty-year reunion and you ask each other what they remember about this speech, one of you will suck in his gut and look down at a killer pair of pumps that are strangling the feet of your Homecoming Queen and say, “I don’t know.”