The world will little note, nor long remember
I skipped my graduation from Michigan State, not caring to troop into Spartan Stadium in the hot sun with thousands of fellow undergraduates to be graduated in something like a Moonie mass wedding. I don’t remember the speaker when I got my master’s degree at Syracuse, but my father-in-law, as he then was, told me that the speaker was faithful to the text of his op-ed piece in the previous week’s New York Times.
Today I see on Twitter that The Washington Post has invited people to submit advice for this year’s graduates, and why should I supply free material to The Post?
Mr. President, esteemed faculty, honored guests, and member of the Class of 2011, thank you for this opportunity to share my life experience with you. You are free to forget it as you leave the auditorium, if not before, so relax.
Graduates, you may not have had a great deal of what is misleadingly called “life experience,” but you have been in classrooms for sixteen or more years and have encountered a range of personality types among your teachers. How many of them were jackasses?
As you enter the working world, you will be encountering jackasses in at least the proportion you encountered them among your teachers. Some of them will be your bosses, some your ineffective colleagues, and perhaps some your worthless subordinates. Dealing with jackasses is one of the most crucial life skills you can master.
You can defer to them, particularly when they are your bosses. You can subvert or work around their idiotic decisions or performances. You can butter them up and exploit their pathetic vanities. But on no account should you let slip your awareness of their jackassery. They can and will turn on you.
Much of the work you do in your career may seem pointless and boring. Most of the time it will be. Do not make the mistake of thinking that business is better run than governmental or educational bureaucracies—remember what I told you about the proportion of jackasses being constant.
If you really love your work, you will find ways to do it, no matter how frustrating the obstacles. If the work is merely something you have to do to live rather than something you can love, find the thing that you love to do and make room for it in your life.
Never let go of your irreverence. Humor is your main weapon against jackassery and pretense.
And remember the things that are perennially true. Stay away from watery American beer. Pick up after yourself. It’s still wrong to wear brown shoes with a blue suit or white after Labor Day. Don’t write in library books. Personal grooming is done in private, not at the table or in the workplace. Don’t tell any more lies than you absolutely have to. Don’t jump the line. Tie your own neckwear. Don’t heat fish in the office microwave. The highway is not a speedway. Take off your hat at table, in church, in court, at the library, and other places that merit your respect. Read books. Read more books. When you encounter people who aren’t jackasses, keep them close.
Your education is not finished, but I am.