Welcome, graduating class of 2018, including all seven of you who are with us in the stadium and the 22,000 who are streaming this ceremony in your parents’ basements.
It is an honor to share my thoughts with you on this historic day, and quite an unexpected honor, at that. After all the prominent speakers were disinvited due to protests, death threats, sex scandals and indictments, your university searched for a person with no meaningful opinions, no public engagement, and no gravitas whatsoever. I am proud to say I am that man. Or we are those human. I can never quite remember.
You are graduating into a fascinating and exciting world today. Unlike your parents’ generation, you are entering an economy with more jobs available than people to fill them. This is a powerful benefit for you, as you will need to hold down at least two jobs to make ends meet, or three jobs if your parents decide to charge rent.
Your choice of jobs, or “gigs,” is practically limitless. You can deliver groceries, deliver restaurant meals, deliver e-commerce packages, deliver passengers…just about anything or anyone you want. You can mix and match your gigs according to your interests and work whenever you choose, or whenever you decide it would be a good idea to eat.
The gig economy offers so much more than your parents could have dreamed possible. Your parents were forced to show up at work when the “Boss” wanted the office to open, and they were forced to wear shirts and shoes. Your parents were doomed to trade their lives away in exchange for status and financial security and health insurance and sick days and paid vacation. Today, you are free of those shackles.
No longer are you bound by the limitations of an office or a cubicle. No longer are you restricted by scheduled work hours or the constraints of employers who demand that you accept the health insurance THEY choose to subsidize for you or the 401(k) THEY think best to match. No longer are you required to let anyone know when you are taking a sick day, since you aren’t on anyone’s schedule and nobody is paying for your time.
At long last, you are free to pursue your own dreams, select your own health insurance, choose your own retirement plan, and pay for these benefits with your own money. You are free to choose: Lyft or Uber, Grub Hub or Door Dash, Instacart or Peapod…or all of the above. You are free like no generation before you to select your hours and your screen name and which decals you’ll be slapping on your windshield. Or your bicycle.
Of course, the greatest among you will make your marks by changing the world forever and for the better. You will achieve nothing less than a quantum leap in quality of life for billions of people. And by that, of course, I mean an app. I have no doubt that yours will be the greatest, most downloaded, most influential app in internet history, and your name will be synonymous with genius for generations to come.
A few of you will take a more traditional route by seeking out a “job” with assigned hours, along with benefits forced upon you by “The Man.” Friends might mock you for this retro path, but be strong, as going old school can be very smart.
Since you are a college graduate AND an internet native, you will have unique insights to bestow upon your colleagues. Your wisdom will be prized by everyone whose vision has been limited by actually working inside the company, or within the industry. Your fresh perspective will make it possible to understand the business fully and identify all its flaws within two weeks. After about three weeks, you’ll be ready to present the reorganization plan that will lead to an immediate promotion to CEO, or higher.
Because your talents are so important—and absolutely not the result of that class action suit about graduate job placement—we have added a job fair to today’s ceremony. Within minutes after you receive your diplomas, you can be pursuing your dreams and repaying your student loans, while the university complies with the terms of its consent decree.
The university’s attorneys want you to know this isn’t technically a “jobs” fair, since you will be signing up as “independent contractors” and not “employees.” However, you can sign up for as many “independent contractorships” as you want, with no restrictions on whose product you deliver or when you drive.
And so, graduating class of 2018, congratulations on your milestone achievement and on the contributions you will make to our world. We know you will succeed and that you will make a powerful impact on the lives of millions.
Just as soon as you can afford a car.
I love little kids, because they’re smart and energetic and curious and they don't have any of the baggage we tend to pick up by the time we're adults. Yes, they tend to cry more than grown-ups when they’re hungry or tired, but there’s none of that passive-aggressive crap you get from “mature adults.”
It’s disappointing to see that childlike wonder and innocence, the joie de vivre that makes us smile, wear away as they grow up. One day, your little baby is smiling and laughing at everything you do and the next day she’s a sullen teen who hates both you and the fact you exist. Not my kids, of course, but I hear stories about this from other, lesser dads.
Psychologists will tell you this is normal and unavoidable and part of the growth and independence of young people and yada yada bull bull yada. In fact, we can prevent this deterioration easily, and I figured out the solution recently at a Chinese restaurant.
At the next table, a lad of four or five was wailing, crying, moaning, screaming and otherwise expressing his displeasure at the immediate circumstances of his life. His flustered parents were cajoling their tot to turn down the volume by about 800 decibels and to redirect his energies to a coloring book they had brought for his amusement. Eventually, he complied, which led to a celebration that included exuberant acclaim and non-stop applause.
Once he stopped throwing a tantrum, his family praised him like he had just won the Iditarod without a sled.
Which made me feel pretty neglected, because I was eating quietly and nobody was applauding for me. Granted, I was dining alone, but the people at the other tables were benefiting from my silence. A word or two of gratitude would certainly have seemed in order.
Even more admirable, I was eating with chopsticks like I was born in China and, again, nobody was clapping for me. The waiter thought it was no big deal, since his kid is five and he handles chopsticks as well as I do at 65. But his kid had to learn to use chopsticks to avoid starvation, while I merely needed the skill to impress my friends and an occasional waiter.
That's when it hit me. I don't get applause for eating with chopsticks or putting my clothes in the hamper or using the potty or finishing my dinner. When I was a kid, I got applause for making all gone at dinner, but I've been polishing off my plate to the sounds of silence for the past 60 years. One day, I hope, I'll force down that last French fry or inhale that last slice of pizza and the whole crowd will go wild with thunderous cheers. So far, nothing.
And that's how we lose our joy for life. When we're three or four or five, we do what we're supposed to do and we get a psychic reward in the form of an attaboy or a standing ovation. Then, they take it all away.
“Yeah, you ate with a fork instead of your fingers. Big deal.”
“So what if you buttoned your own shirt? Nobody cares.”
“Great. You finished all your food. Now we begin the fat shaming!!”
And slowly, as our excitement for life deflates, we turn into the sour, bitter, cantankerous, small-minded, weasel-lipped Morlocks who prowl Planet Earth today. We’re miserable and petty and we have more trigger warnings than a gun control rally.
The solution is obvious, of course: More applause for doing what we’re supposed to do in the first place. Like writing this post.
Where the hell is my standing ovation????
Not everything needs to be wrapped in a 500-word post, but they're still worth a comment or two....
This week’s finalist for dumbest thing everybody says:
“At least he died doing what he loved.”
No, no, no, no and no. I do not want to die doing what I love and I suspect that’s true for most people. I imagine the conversations at the funeral…
“Yeah, little Ayden hasn’t stopped screaming since gramps keeled over on him at the park, but at least he died doing what he loved.”
"Eleanor is sleeping on the couch in the den now, but at least Herbie died doing what he loved.”
“Everyone in the buffet line stops and cries when they get to the dent in the pasta bar, but at least Jimmy died doing what he loved.”
Who came up with that crap and who was gullible enough to pass it on, and on, and on, and on….?
Nobody wants to die doing what they love, because they love doing it and want to continue. Much better to die in the middle of the worst, most aggravating, useless, thankless, filthiest task imaginable, the kind of job so miserable that you actually look up at the sky and say, “Please, Lord, take me now.”
Every so often, after a funeral, I’ll think about the guest of honor, both how they lived and how they died, and make a mental note of whether the scenario has any appeal. When it’s a person who lived a long life, spent the last day with family and then died peacefully in their sleep, it’s pretty hard to complain. Other times, I’ll leave with a new commitment not to go LIKE THAT.
But I have never attended a going-away party and thought it would be great to die in the midst of bliss. If you must know, my vision of a great death is more heroic. Perhaps I would collapse right after saving a dozen children from a burning building, or maybe saving a busload of nuns from careening off a cliff. I’m a writer at heart, so I want to leave behind a good final story for the grieving multitude.
I’ve also considered a scenario where I save all the Sports Illustrated swimsuit models from a tsunami, but I haven’t finalized the details yet. Every time I imagine it, it seems too much like something I’d love to do.