COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS 2007

11Jun07

Graduation season is upon us, and it’s once again time for the unqualified to dispense pearls of wisdom to the disinterested. So don your caps and gowns, take your seats and try to stay awake.

Thank you for inviting me to speak here today. When I think about some of the people who have walked through the doors of this august institution, I wonder why there isn’t better security.

Back in the 20th Century, when I was in school, things were much different. We didn’t have the Internet. There was no such thing as MySpace or FaceBook. We had to make friends the old fashioned way—-by letting them cut in the lunch line.

Nowadays, everything is computers. One day, we won’t need teachers. We won’t need administrators. We won’t need classrooms. We won’t even need graduation. One day, a computer will give the commencement speech to a bunch of other computers. Where will you be then? Probably the same place you’ll be after you leave here today—your parents basement.

Back when I was in school, we did have TV, but we didn’t have Jon Stewart to tell us what we should think and believe. We had to rely on some dirty hippie to do that.

You have completed part of your formal education, but you still have much to learn. Let me give you the benefit of some of the life lessons that I’ve accumulated.

Always pause before speaking, especially at meetings. It gives the impression that you’re a deep thinker, and with any luck, some rude person will interrupt and you won’t have to talk at all.

You will encounter enormous pressure to love what you do. That’s fine, but don’t talk about it at social gatherings. There is no more boring party guest than the one who wants to talk about how much he loves his job.

Don’t talk too fast. To be better understood, speak slowly. And don’t talk about yourself. Better yet, don’t talk.

If you make a mistake, avoid blaming others. Better yet, avoid others.

When communicating, use words that are easily understood. Don’t obfuscate, and avoid words like recondite and abstruse.

Accept criticism gracefully. If you disagree with someone, invite the person to step into your office. Then lock them in there alone until they see the error of their ways.

Never be too busy to laugh. Better yet, never be too busy.

Know when to walk away from a conversation, and do it as soon as possible.

Always treat others as competent, hardworking people who are doing the best they can. After all, even slackers deserve a good laugh once in a while.

If someone accuses you of procrastinating, thank them for their feedback and tell them that you’ll get back to them after you’ve had some time to think about their comments. A decade or two ought to be enough.

And most important of all, be brief. Talk may be cheap, but I’m not. So I’ll follow my own advice and quit before you all go broke.

[This column originally appeared in the Wakefield Daily Item.]

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