Members of the graduating class: congratulations. I really mean that. You’ve faced challenges that are unlike those faced by any previous graduating class, and, although most of you are still young, you’ve gained the knowledge, strength, and wisdom to help you through some of the challenges to come, like the sudden disappearance of bell bottom jeans, and the backlash against disco.
Excuse me, I seem to be reading a commencement speech written for the Class of 1978.
The world has changed significantly since you first started college. The world has even changed significantly since you first started your senior year. There have even been great changes since you took your final exams. You may say that change is the one thing that is constant. Specifically you may say that if you have to give a graduation commencement speech and you can’t think of anything else. Feel free to use it. You don’t even have to give me credit. After all it’s not an idea I came up with on my own, and I’m pretty sure whomever I first heard it from had gotten it from someone else. Sometimes I wonder who was the first person to say “Originality is overrated”, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the first.
I know this might be a frightening time for most of you, maybe even all of you. The world is facing crises it’s never seen before, but that’s nothing new. It wasn’t that long ago that the world was on the brink of nuclear war. Admittedly it may be again. I haven’t checked the news in the past fifteen minutes, and if there’s one thing besides change that’s constant it’s that we humans are great at mult-tasking when it comes to getting ourselves into serious trouble. It’s bad enough when I had a roommate, Kevin, who not only managed to get himself stuck in a window but also set his jacket on fire, but we also tend to create crises collectively, even globally. Fortunately we manage to avoid all getting stuck in a window at the same time.
Still we can do extraordinary things when we work together. We have sent humans to the Moon and brought them back safely. And we’ve invented pastrami.
We have a long history of coming through crises. It’s why we’re still here, after all, and have even found ways to succeed. Consider the plague of London in the early 17th century. It was a devastating event but still people found a way to come through it, and most of the people at the time hadn’t even finished high school, although they were familiar with the major works of Shakespeare.
Admittedly their solution for dealing with the plague was to burn the entire city to the ground, but look at the opportunities for rebuilding.
We’ve overcome so many challenges: world wars, major shifts in climate, mass migrations, unnecessary struggles against ourselves, and an evil clown who lured children into the sewer and ate them. For no particular reason this seems like a good time to mention that I’m pretty sure if you play Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” backwards it sounds exactly the same.
I remember a time when it was hip to be square, and a time before that when it wasn’t hip to be square, and now no one uses the terms “hip” and “square” anymore. The world you’re going into is one in which it’s a lot harder to be weird, a lot harder to stand out, than it was when I was growing up. The good news is this doesn’t matter. Who was the first person to say “Weirdness is overrated”? We don’t know, just that it was a pretty strange thing to say.
What matters is you’re going out into the world and you will each find a way to deal with the challenges waiting for you, and with luck and hard work someday you’ll be able to tell people younger than you that if they think they have it tough they have no idea what it was like for you.
And finally because I always like to end on a high note C sharp.