If I Were Cool Enough To Give a Commencement Address, It Would Go Something Like This
To the Graduating Class of 2012:
Congratulations! I’m sure it feels like just yesterday you first embarked upon your college endeavor, anticipating new experiences and unique perspectives, completely unsuspecting of just how much the next few years would shape who you are today. I bet you had no idea when you first stepped foot on campus how much you would grow, how many friends you would make or how great you would be at Quarters. And here you stand before your friends and family on this momentous occasion of your graduation ceremony, eagerly awaiting your chance to walk across this stage, receive your empty diploma frame and face the world at large.
But what is the state of the world at large? I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors. Mounting national debt, a disappearing middle class, people getting eaten by sharks, a volatile and challenging economy, among many other large-scale issues. And then there are the issues even more specific to your generation. Millenials (people born in the 80s and 90s) face a 12% unemployment rate, which is higher than the 8% national average unemployment rate. The Associated Press just reported that half of you will leave this ceremony either unemployed or underemployed. I bet that makes it tough to deal with their average $45,000 in debt. And it probably doesn’t help that most Millenials are financially illiterate.
You know what’s crazy though? You’re going to be just fine. You see, despite the seemingly herculean obstacles all around us, you are well-equipped to not only survive, but to thrive. By attaining a Bachelor’s degree, you have earned yourselves a spot among the highest educated 30% of the U.S. population. You grad students out there are in the top 11%. You are armed with the tools and training to be the impactful people of tomorrow. When you get frustrated with the inefficiencies and injustices around you, take comfort in the fact that when the old guard passes, you will be there to step in and make a difference.
That’s not to say that you are going to walk away from this ceremony and start kicking ass. There is going to be some struggle. There’s a chance it will take you a while to find work. You will probably have a quarter life crisis, if that hasn’t happened to you already. There may still be break ups, make ups and shake ups you never saw coming. You might even find yourself moving in with your parents or strangers on Craigslist who don’t wear pants as often as you’d like them to, but they don’t require a security deposit so it’s really the only affordable option at the time. (They might end up being kind of fun! Sometimes.)
For me and some of you and many of our fellow Millenials, there is a giant gap between graduation and self-actualized adulthood that nobody told us about. There are going to be a few years where we are too mature to end up on “Texts From Last Night,” but still not ready to buy houses, have serious conversations about life insurance or propagate on purpose. In fact the average age of a first-time homeowner these days is 35. The average age for a first child among female college grads is 30. You’ve got a while to go.
It’s been five years since I graduated and I still have moments where I can’t get it together. But the older I get, the more I feel like I know what I’m doing. Maybe I’ll have it all figured out by 30. Probably not, though. I bet that’s still okay. Like I said, the fact that you are standing here today proves that you have what it takes to succeed eventually. And you certainly don’t have to do it on anyone else’s time frame.
In a way, success isn’t your entitlement – it’s your obligation. Your education was an investment. It was an investment of your money, or your parents’ money or maybe the government’s money. It’s an investment on the part of the faculty who imparted both knowledge and wisdom, even when they could tell you weren’t paying attention. Think of your friends who supported you, stayed up studying with you, celebrated the end of semesters with you and pretended that they couldn’t tell you hadn’t washed your hair when you were too busy studying for finals. (BTW – try some dry shampoo next time, for serious.) Think of your mentors who wouldn’t have offered their time, advice or even concern if they didn’t think you were going to make something of yourself. Think of everything you did in the last few years to earn this moment. You owe it to all these people, and most importantly to yourself, to be a good investment and live to your best potential. To quote a Jack’s Mannequin song, “The whole world is watching/ You haven’t come this far to fall off the earth.”
A few final pieces of parting advice – if you happen to reach true and stable adulthood sooner than everyone else, that’s awesome. But maturity doesn’t entitle you with a smug sense of superiority, so be nice to everyone else. Don’t stop learning just because you’re not in school. Never forget to wear sunscreen. And as happy as you are in this moment, don’t let this be your peak. Make sure it gets even better from here. I know it will get even better from here.
Again, congratulations. I’ll see you back at my HelloGiggles column in six months when your student loans kick in.