Commencement speeches are garbage. College graduation is terrifying.
The platitudes of graduation speeches are so damaging. It sets you up for some magical moment when you enter adulthood and the world of opportunity opens up to you. But actually the world does not open up after college. Either it opened up to you the day you were born to very rich parents, or you will have to search high and low for a crowbar large enough to pry open the world of opportunity and sneak a foot in before it snaps shut again.
This is the advice you will really need to hear. I’m sorry that it’s not perky and fun and inspiring. But look, if you are feeling all gushy and excited about going out into the work world, then you don’t need any warm, inspirational advice.
Your job was school and now you are out of a job. The good news is that from now on no one will tell you things like what to learn or how to write. The bad news is that you have basically been training to be an academic for the last 18 years, so unless you want to teach, you are now doing a career change. We can talk all day about how stupid it is to train everyone to be an academic. But instead, just realize that all your training is irrelevant, which means you are starting over. And the only skills you have are the ones you were born with. So you should figure out your personality type, and memorize what it means so you can steer yourself toward something you’ll succeed at doing.
Don’t fulfill someone else’s dreams. You are probably not going to do anything special in your career. Very few people do. And those who have remarkably successful careers pay a steep price. Before you set a career goal for yourself, ask yourself what other people had to do to get there. Teachers told you if you do well in school you’ll have a great career, but that’s not how the world works. It’s actually if you give up everything else and focus on your career then you’ll have a great career. Most people don’t want to do that, so it’s okay for you to say you don’t want to do it.
Pharmaceuticals are your friends. Most mental illnesses appear in one’s twenties. If one emerges in you, don’t fight it on your own. It’s a waste of time. You will squander your potential by being completely focused on your mental illness. Just take the pills that work for the illness and move on. And stop taking stimulants to stay up all night working. That’s for students. The only people who stay up all night working in adult life are losers. School rewards the hardest workers, but work does not. Work is more complicated, but first and foremost you have to be a person that other people like to be around.
Don’t find out about your friends online. Your friends are full of shit when they post pictures online. You know that already, but you do it anyway, right? The more you see your friends lying about how happy they are, the more unhappy you’ll feel about your own life. The truth is everyone is either unhappy and lost in their 20s or they are putting unhappiness off until their 30s by being a doctor or lawyer. Stop going through what people are posting online and find friends you can connect with. Those are the ones who will be real.
Men and women stop being equal when you graduate from college. Because women have only ten years to work before they have to have kids, and men have twenty even thirty years. So women need to stop thinking they can do whatever men do, because you can’t. You cannot piss away your 20s experimenting and doing things that “don’t count.” Men can do that, but it’s no cakewalk for them either, because while women in their 20s are in very high demand, men in their 20s are low-earning and immature and largely seen by both sexes as undercooked.
Don’t pretend you know what you’re doing. No one will believe it. Instead show humility and ask for lots of help. Because every recent grad looks fresh and full of potential and people will want to help you because you remind them of them, when they were young and fresh and full of potential. If you act like you know what you’re doing, they can’t offer help. And remember, even if your parents have great connections in the Senate or the Fortune 500 or whatever, your most valuable mentors are people only a few years ahead of you. They remember how difficult it is to be you and they recently navigated those paths themselves.
Learn to cope with NO. You’re going to hear it a lot. Remember you are switching from being a seasoned, successful student to being an entry-level nobody in your new career. George Santino, author of Get Back Up, has snappy advice for dealing with no that I wish someone told me when I was graduating. Get to the no as fast as you can, ask why, and then address what’s missing. When someone says no, the easiest thing to do is walk away. But that’s not going to break through any barriers.
Make tough choices. People who have successful careers have a chosen career by age 25. Just get into a career and make it work. People who are good at sales can do it anywhere. People who are good at design can design anywhere. People who are good managers can manage any where. Too much emphasis is put on WHERE you work. It doesn’t matter. Just get a job. You will float to where you belong in any organization. And:
Accept where you belong. So if you find yourself being floated out — well, the truth is that not everyone belongs in the workforce, just like not everyone belongs at home taking care of kids.
It’s not your job to pass judgement on who was born with the best set of skills. It’s your job to respect everyone — people who have great skills for parenting and people who have great skills for being CEO. And recognize that those skills sets don’t overlap.
No one is a super hero. So just be you.
So true. And so much of it is something I wish I could make the young graduates of today read. Especially about asking for help.
Wow, great advice. You might have added (although perhaps you’re not currently finding it so) that EVERYTHING gets a lot easier as you get older.
it does? not in my experience (and i’m 47)
Disagree. Everything gets easier only if you are willing to learn from your mistakes.
This hits the nail on the head.
I got into a top French school when I was 17, and when I graduated with a master’s in International Relations at just 22 and speaking four languages, I couldn’t get a job.
I spent the worst summer of my life realizing that the world had not been waiting for me.
Then I got a job.
It was in consulting and I hated it because I’m an INFJ.
So I leveraged my network, got another job, and I’ve been in the same company ever since, slowly figuring out what I’m good at AND enjoy doing.
Today I work in IT and I love it.
It’s been a great journey, but it all started with accepting that what made me succeed in school wouldn’t make me succeed at work.
Many people never understand that.
I think you need to edit the following sentence:
“The more you see your friend lying about how happy you are, the more unhappy you will feel about your own life.”
“The more you see your friends lying about how happy they are, the more unhappy you will feel about your own life.”
Thanks, John. Althoug there is so much BS-sunshine on social media that maybe people are lying about their friends’ lives as well!
We didn’t have a commencement speaker when I graduated. I wish we’d invited you. Even though you weren’t born yet. This is the speech every graduate needs to hear.
I remember well the shock upon graduation to realize I had graduated to being unemployed.
Thank heavens for that one professor who apparently liked me, who recommended me to the software company down the road. They hired me at next to nothing, but at least it was a start.
“the software company down the road”
Down the Road? Good one! Is that where your blog title comes from? :D
I got your book/magazine and really enjoy it. Just lovely.
Heh, the blog title comes from my blog originally being largely about road trips I take! It’s morphed into a photography blog slowly over time. And thank you so much for buying my book! You are now a member of an exclusive club, insomuch as it has not yet sold very well. I’m very happy you enjoy it!
What’s your website address?
My son just graduated from college last weekend. It wasn’t the commencement speech that got to me, it was all the awards the faculty gave to each other while we sat in the hot sun waiting for the show to get on the road so we could see our children graduate.
Pat yourself on the back at the end, if you must……
This is so on point, coming from career counseling in higher education, it is sad to see how many people believe the lie you speak of in this post.
I love the pic! An INTJ’s strange sense of humor at work…
Total BS. Just ask the computer science, engineering and math graduates. They have jobs, and are using every day what they learned in school.
Theresa, I see what you are saying. My son just graduated with an electrical engineering degree specializing in radio frequency engineering (satellite technology, electromagnetism, and so much more I don’t fully grasp….). His training blows my mind. How did they even begin this? How was this discovered? How did they figure out how the different natural elements affected electromagnetic waves? And, if I keep typing, I’ll further reveal my ignorance….My son says, “We are standing on the shoulders of giants.” Amen.
Exactly what I’ve been doing for over 30 years. I’m sure he’ll have a great career.
What are the math graduates doing? My son is interested in studying it, but I don’t know any mathematicians other than an actuary friend of my husband’s.
I threw your question out to my just graduated engineer son, who threw out a bunch of stuff I couldn’t remember. Then, he suggested I google it. This is a sampling of what I came up with by googling, “What can you do with a math degree?”
What Can You Do With a Mathematics Degree?
Whether you call it ‘math’ or ‘maths’, or prefer the traditional ‘mathematics’, if you study numbers at university, your career opportunities are not only numerous, they’re also fairly lucrative.
Thanks to the growing importance placed on technology, big data and economic efficiency by all kinds of organizations, expert number crunchers are increasingly in demand. In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2012 and 2022, the job market for mathematicians is expected to grow by a whopping 23%, with a predicted median salary of US$110,000.
But it’s not all about the money! Those who study maths are keen problem solvers, eager to make sense of even the most advanced equations. Academic research is a common career path, but so too are careers in business, economics and banking. This wide range of opportunities comes from the universal need for graduates with strong analytical and problem-solving skills – which math graduates should have by the bucket load.
There is more that I didn’t copy.
Yep, graduate with a job lined up and this existential crises is minimized.
Figure it out while you’re bringing in money, not while you’re waiting to bring in money. And, don’t waste time. The 20s are for ramping up, not slowing down and looking about.
Even if they have a job, there is a very good chance that job is with a bottom feeding department/division/company that views the employee as cheap temporary resource. I remember graduating as a Gen X’er. Very few people that I knew found jobs with good employers straight out of school. Even then, they usually had a family connection to the employer.
Within 2 years of graduating, I had the following job experiences:
Downsized as part of a cost cutting measure.
Downsized as part of a product focus change.
Quit because my hours were slashed from fulltime to 22 per week (The competition was kicking their rears).
Worked five contract assignments
Worked a part-time job at a small casino
Worked a job sharing position which became a FT job at the 2 year mark.
Wow, sorry to hear about all your job ‘experiences.’ Yikes. Talk about bruising. I hope you didn’t get too discouraged. Was this during the Great Recession? I hope you were able to separate the macro reasons from the you reasons. Which is really hard to do in your 20s.
What slays me today is all these fresh-eyed millennials, three months in to their new job, asking their boss, “So when will I be promoted?”
It sucked at the time, but I’m doing fine. It was a good experience. I learned to quickly figure out business processes, and how to identify and trouble shoot issues.
A large portion of my peers were forced to job hop or their careers stagnated. Even if they had a job with a good company; they need to move around to progress.
One needs to be at the forefront of an industry where you work for two years then make 6 figures, or with a major degree that is needed. Joining just any co after college in hopes that it leads somewhere (as in completely randon) or you don’t figure out your direction quickly can be a disaster and can lead to stuckness based on outside work personal factors.
or top % in your class in Arabic or Korean with no iffy character incidents. Gov and contracter headhunters need.
Old boyfriend was hired for his russian and polish expertise while a senior.
Come to think of it, spies with that capability coming back in fashion.
Most of the INTJ’s I know, including myself, are late bloomers who college was not wasted on.
I have a kid who has wanted to be an engineer since very young, and she’ll need that piece of paper to have the career she wants. I have another young kid who is an actor and is already working in her field/craft.
My brother graduated from law school last year, passed the CA bar, and was already working in a law office before he graduated. School was a necessary tool for him to practice law.
My sister in law is a professor of sociology. She needed her education in order to become a professor and get tenure.
When one is a specialist in something, more often than not, one will already have everything lined up. They will have connections in their field of interest. They will have good references. They will have had solid internships. They will have a job already at graduation.
When one is a generalist, this is where one is lost after graduation, often working in a field unrelated to what they “studied”.
I was a late bloomer. I graduated in 2001 during a recession and was able to find work in my field and did that until I had kids.
Before one has a family, it is impossible to know what the kids’ needs will be. Mine needed me to stay home. I never intended to take 10 years off of work, but I find that I am not alone in this.
I could have gone to four graduation ceremonies, as a repeat academic offender. It turns out they still give you them even if you don’t go. I usually had better things to do than sit in the hot sun and marinate in pomp. But that doesn’t mean college was wasted on me.
AA isn’t a real degree so I skipped that for an early start on work in the summer. The BA ceremony I went to, friends and all, and it was remarkably anticlimactic because as you say the degree was too general. I didn’t have any concept of a career, anyway, just work so I could travel.
I remember thinking ‘well, that’s done I guess’ and hoisting my duffle to my shoulder so I could hitchhike out to the Cape and make some coin.
I’m totally not mad or even disappointed about that. I was only nineteen and took the whole next year off to live on the south coast of Turkey with what I earned that summer. Waste your youth — it’s cheaper!
The MA I didn’t go to either because I was studying on fellowship in Brazil at the time, I think. I helped the lifeguard on the beach at Ipanema write love letters. And got paid for it.
The PhD graduation I likewise skipped, because by then I was making money hand over fist and living in the Copacabana Meridien. Yes, college was very good to me. Wanna go to Rio? Study Portuguese!
I went to my wife’s MBA graduation and by god the speakers said stupid things. It made me glad I had skipped most of my own. A huge load of hooey on a very hot day. But I needed my degrees for my career, my mother needed her degrees for her career, and my wife needs her degrees for her career. It has all worked out great for us. This talk about college being a waste of time… well, YMMV.
It’s true that it is unusual for a person to move up much through getting college degrees. That might be too much to expect. But it’s less unusual for a person to fall down through not getting them. For a lot of us, the day comes when nobody cares what you actually studied. They just care that you’re a finisher.
For 2 hours before my graduation, I went out into the thick woods of our campus, and found a lovely spot to meditate on my college experience. I pulled out the hugest most gorgeous bud and got good and stoned for 2 hours as I looked back on my college journey.
Feeling at peace, I changed into my graduation gown, and found out I was walking first, leading the entire graduating class that day.
I found it as hilarious then as I do this day. I was all smiles as I recieved my diploma. Sitting through the rest of the boring ceremony was a breeze as I sat half-listening to the bullshit, in my own world of what accomplishing my degree means to me.
My family was so proud of me, and my Dad thinks I’m the coolest for being such a functional stoner. I had to take the day off work of my new job to attend this graduation. I look back so fondly on that time of being so authentic, before corporate culture had begun to wear away at my spirit.
Just wanted to share that, there’s no real point. Sending out a ton of my love to all my fellow humans trying to struggle through in a system that runs over people for profit.
This was epic!! And explains why your followers love you so much!! To be able to put these truths into words is genius-and will help whoever listens to them…People are always developing and growing, sometimes out of the old role-and into something new and into areas they would have never thought possible.
Penelope, I really enjoyed this part:
“Men and women stop being equal when you graduate from college. Because women have only ten years to work before they have to have kids, and men have twenty even thirty years. ”
As an INTJ woman,I could never imagine slowing down on my career to have kids. But now that I´m 29, married to a wonderful man and contemplating kids, I realize there are things I will have to give up. My husband is doing very well in his career (finance) and sometimes it´s hard for me to accept that at this stage his career success matters more than mine because I will have to slow down. So his success is more important to me and our family because he´s our family´s best hope to earn money if we want kids. It was especially hard for me to accept that because I was always good at my job and a top student so choosing not to pursue some ambitions is a new concept. I´m too used to having an identity as a high performer (which you also mentioned on this blog).
Steve Job’s commencement address at Stanford in 2005 is one for the annals, though. It was pitch-perfect. And I say that as one who is not an admirer of the man and who never owned a single fruity device.
J.K. Rowling’s commencement speech at Harvard in 2008 is also priceless and totally worth reading:
1) achievable goals => self improvement,
2) failure allows one to truly see themselves,
3) imagination allows one to empathize.
It’s not this rah-rah “reach for the sky” and “you can be anything” pep rally crap that rings hollow and isn’t motivating.
Great post, by the way, Penelope.
This post is so perfect, my words cannot convey the perfectness of it.
When my daughter graduated from her ‘fancypants’ 7 sisters college and entered the world, she was totally unprepared for the rejection. She said that the professors at college were so supportive and in the real work world people were very cold and didn’t care or want to help.
I said “Don’t you realize I was PAYING those professors to be supportive of you?” Never occurred to her. It’s been a struggle. She did waste her 20’s but finally got into freelance writing and is doing very well ( making good money working p/t while being a mom – exactly what you predict AND exactly what she would have NEVER thought would happen!).
My other daughter got a business degree which included 4 semesters of full time (paid) internship in her field. Came out into multiple offers and totally prepared. Doing great ever since.
Maybe I got a head start in a way: the teachers I had at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, on the whole, were cold and not very supportive. When one of my relatives went to U of I, I gave them the best advice I knew: get a faculty mentor.
You were the first blog I ever followed,and I still adore you. Question – why don’t your posts convert to mobile format? 😁😁😁
That’s a really good question. I’m sure it’s because I haven’t done something. I will investigate.
They convert to a mobile format on my phone. 95% of the time anyway.
Absolutely fantastic advice. I’m going to make sure all my children read this. And thanks for the mention of my book.
I need help! Am having a panic-moment and feel like you and your blog readers would know what to do….
I’m a writer, and expecting my first baby in about a month, and I’m worried about my ability to work from home (or not!).
From Months 0-5, my parents will stay with us, and while they say they want to help, I’m not sure how much they can. Months 5 – 7, husband goes on paternity leave. Parents might come back for Months 9-10 or so, after which it’s definitely day care time.
The trouble is, I’m a writer who works from home. If I don’t write, I hardly get paid, and I really need the income. What can I do? Just accept that till Month 8, I’ll have barely any productivity/income? Or is there any way to write and hand off some babycare duties? :(
It’s harder to make future plans when you are having a baby. You just never know what it will be like, what you can plan for, until you actually have the baby and can see firsthand how all-encompassing it really is. After you get the hang of things, which you definitely will by month 8, then you will have a clearer view of what you need your schedule to look like, how much help you want from your parents, and whether you need to hire a nanny to be there so you can write without too much distraction.
I would say not to stress about it. Just live in the moment and try to understand that kids and future plans rarely align. You have help starting out, and that is more than a lot of people get!
It really depends on the baby. Some are champion sleepers and will let you rest at night while others have reflux and cry what feels like all the time. Most are in-between. I was able to do a decent amount of work until my LO got mobile.
I would recommend scaling back spending money on only those things and services which are absolutely necessary. Also come up with a budget that you can feasibly adhere to. Those are two things in your control which you can immediately implement. And then after that search for other income sources.
Wow! That is one of the best posts ever. As a gen Xer with 30+ years in life and work, I can confidently say that you found a way to perfectly sum up the truth. I am forwarding to everyone I know.
This is the best column (from any source) I have read this year. Penelope will get some static from the feminist-women-can-do-anything crowd, but she’s right. And of course guys in their twenties are undercooked. My grandfather used to say a man wasn’t worth a damn until he was 40, and he was right.
One other point: The most important thing for graduates to hear — not the most gratifying thing, but the most important — is “Congratulations on finishing the easiest four years of your life!”
That’s why they call it “commencement.” The important part of life begins here.
Bravo!! You speak the truth!
Rush Limbaugh just mentioned this article on his radio show. It is in his “stack of stuff” to discuss this week. If I understood him correctly, he liked the article.
He did!! I didn’t hear the whole thing, but I think he referenced it via his “stack of stuff” with a person who called in. I got in on the very end of it…., but he did say he liked it.
I can’t believe that I like something that “he” likes… Perhaps I should read it again to make sure:)
Off topic, but where was the photo shot? The building looks very familiar to me.
it’s in prague
Wonderful article! I think every graduate needs to read. And why did not anyone tell me these words at the graduation party …
Great post Penelope! It’s the commencement speech with advice that you just can’t take … or understand fully … or really want to listen to. As you say, it’s not fun, perky, and inspiring. Perhaps there should be two commencement addresses for each graduating class. One given sometime in the last year of studies using plain spoken language with good advice attended by students and school officials only and then one given at commencement with platitudes so everyone can celebrate their accomplishment.
I think the good advice I could have used at graduation is that the world is not about you. The world can and will somehow manage without you. Sure, you can make a big impact in some way and should be encouraged to do so. But just realize there’s a lot going on in the world other than just what’s happening in your own head. I think it comes down to one word as I write this comment – humility. Learn it and you’ll go far in life.
Fine! You did an excellent job for your readers but Bihar Board Also Released 10th result today.
Excellent advice! Well said.
I sent this post to my wife and college aged kids. Thank you. I wish someone had said these things to me before I graduated!
“Accept where you belong. So if you find yourself being floated out — well, the truth is that not everyone belongs in the workforce, just like not everyone belongs at home taking care of kids.”
I don’t belong at home taking care of kids, yet everyone keeps telling me to adopt. I think they keep saying that just because I’m a woman, and not because I would be good at caregiving. I’m influential and make a good leader, which is being mistaken as I’d make a good mom. So that one paragraph has me conflicted. It’s putting people in boxes when life is always changing.
Life is about sink or swim, no matter what position you find yourself in. None of us knows where we’re going to end up, even when you do accept where you belong.
I like the part where you tell people not to learn about their friends online. Men having 20-30 years for career vs women’s 10 is brilliant. The word judgment is spelled incorrectly.
Judgment has been the prevailing spelling on both sides of the pond since the late 1600s according to this short three paragraph post – http://blog.dictionary.com/judgement-vs-judgment/ . But there’s a much longer read if you care to read the comment section with 235 comments. Not everybody agrees with the post. :)
I think that is generational. Z’s are pretty transparent/realistic on and off line- it’s too fluid.
I always spell it “judgement” on principle because “g” by itself (and c) has a hard sound, and it is the e, i or y following it that makes it soft. I disagree with removing the “e”.
I also spell it ‘judgement’. I hadn’t thought of the hard and soft sound aspect. I just like the way the word appears when it’s spelled as such. It highlights the word from which it’s derived – judge.
This is totally unrelated but when will we get another Melissa update? Is she dating? How is her life! I hope she finds love!
Harika bir site
Wao super bir site
Thanks for the information but on 9th June 2017, UP Board Will release the exam result on the official website.
Wow! I’m sorry you’ve had such a crappy experience with life. I hope my children and grandchildren never have yours a coach or motivational speaker. Your negative assumptions are no more correct than those platitudes you discredit. What you say may be true — for you and some other people. Some of it may be more true for more people. Some may be true for only a few. But either way, no matter how easy or hard life has been, each person has to decide how they are going to face life. If life’s possibilities are A-Z and you never reach beyond c, you’ll never get farther. If you reach for Z and only get to M, just think how much farther you’ve gotten than if you had limited yourself to C. I’d much rather have a commencement address that helps me believe the best of what life has to offer than one that kills my motivation to even try. I hope you get therapy. You may never “have it all” but don’t sell yourself short of what is possible. I have no doubt that there could be greatness in store for you that you haven’t even imagined, if you aren’t so afraid of the possible disappointment of not attaining it that you don’t even try.
UP Board Result 2017 Class 10th
I found the tone of the article distressing. And it had statements that, if true, would be devastating. Luckily, they are not.
“the only skills you have are the ones you were born with.” Since I was born, I learned how to read, write, sing and dance. I was terrible at most interpersonal interactions, but now I have regular really successful interactions. I learned how to make love-that took some practice.
“all your training is irrelevant” Really, every single thing I learned at school is irrelevant? Not for me. I learned some thinking skills. I learned how to add, subtract and multiply. I learned positive psychology, which has been very useful at work and play.
“You are probably not going to do anything special in your career.” Really, because I have 20 peers in my office that do special things each and every day. They help people. They have great ideas and come up with great plans.
“Your friends are full of shit when they post pictures online…The more you see your friends lying about how happy they are”-OK, today, my friend posted a funny picture-is that full of shit? Is it a lie? A friend posted a picture of her cat doing something amusing. Is that full of shit? Is that a lie? A friend posted a link to an article on your blog. Is that full of shit? Is that a lie?
“The truth is everyone is either unhappy and lost in their 20s or they are putting unhappiness off until their 30s by being a doctor or lawyer.” If you are going to claim that it is “The truth” that all 4 billion adults currently alive were unhappy and lost in their 20s, I am going to need to see some data.
Thanks for information great blog.
For the people saying they suck, how many commencement speeches have they actually listened to or been at? N=1 does not mean the rest are the same, though it would be great to quantify a representative sample of commencement speeches.
When I graduated last year from a top 10 school with a master’s degree (and yes, job in hand with double the salary I entered the program with), all three speeches given were checkered with excellent advice.
Outstanding. A little exaggerated, but that was to get our attention. Truth and practicality give more hope than the empty sentiment we’re used to.
Thanks for another wonderful article. The place else may just anybody get that type of info in such a perfect means of writing?
I’ve a presentation subsequent week, and I’m on the search for such information.
I like all the post, but i choose this sentence to be my favourite :“And the only skills you have are the ones you were born with”.
This is totally unrelated but when will we get another Melissa update? Is she dating? How is her life! I hope she finds love!
Nice article! thanks for the information
Where were all these advice when I graduated! The feeling you’re an adult and need to do something with your life from now on made me frustrated. And suddenly you need to know all these “adult things” and go to work, and, oh my God, start learning again! How my first employer said: “Forget everything you learned at the uni. You don’t need this. Open your laptop, I’ll show you how the real world works!”