I have not been asked (so far) to speak at the commencement exercises for any college or university this year, but were I to do so, this is what I would tell the graduating class of 2012:
Congratulations on completing your course of studies at this august institution. No doubt you have worked hard over the past few years to reach this point in your lives. However, do not conclude that your education is complete. Only the classroom phase has ended, now you are about to enter the real world and it is a far more difficult course of study than all you have had until now.
Understand you are again at the bottom, just as you were when you entered school, started a new school or entered into any new phase. What you know now is only as good as what you can do with it.
Life is not fair. In point of fact, it is completely unfair. It will give you a test first, then you will learn the lesson. Most the questions will be trick questions and you will rarely have the right answer because there is likely no such thing as a right answer.
Do not think you know more than anyone else. In fact, you are best off assuming you may know far little than everyone else and possibly less than that in real terms.
Understand that work has value. All work, from the person who scrubs toilets to the one who owns the company that makes the newest of new technologies. That does not mean all work is equal or equally rewarded. Most people can be trained to clean a toilet, but those who can be trained to fix them are more valuable and those who can invent a better one will be valued even higher. There is a reason the boss makes more money than you do.
Don’t assume you know more than the boss or that you could do the boss’ job. You know far less than you realize and the boss will rarely share everything with you. Nor should the boss do so. That doesn’t mean the boss is always right, but the boss is still YOUR boss.
If you think you’ve “paid your dues,” you are wrong. You haven’t even started.
Don’t think you are owed anything. The world owes you nothing as it has been here longer than you have been.
Life gives you a ticket that reads “Admit one.” That’s it, everything else in life is up to you.
Likewise, life is pain and work. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.
If you think you can “beat the system,” understand that while some people do, they generally had to work hard at doing so. If you try to beat the system you can end up in jail or worse, so think things through first.
If you want the “perfect” life, house, car, mate, you should be aware that this rarely happens. “Perfect” rarely even stays that way, it is fleeting, so understand that before you commit to it.
Make friends more than you make enemies, but understand that you will make enemies. Friends may come and go, but most enemies are for life.
More positively, you stand on the threshold of tomorrow. There is a great deal you can accomplish if you are willing to work hard to achieve it. If you just plan to punch in and punch out, don’t expect to change the world.
That’s not just true of work, but of your personal life. If you are just “doing the job” with your friends and potential partners, you will not get much back. If you put in extra effort, you will gain far more than you dream.
Seek to understand those who are different from you in life. Don’t think someone is stupid because they have different ideas. Listen to those ideas first, you may find out you are the one who is wrong.
But have opinions. Voice them appropriately.
Now, take down all those pictures you put on your wall on Facebook and hope that no one has downloaded the more embarrassing ones. The Internet is huge and when you put something on it, that thing may well stay up forever.
Just like this will.