Tuesday, June 14, 2016

My commencement address. Hold onto your shorts.

This morning as I was brutally woken by the alarm clock I remembered dreaming about giving a commencement address. While I was swimming I worked on it a bit more. Here it is.

Hello there ladies and gentlemen! (cue Cheap Trick.)

70 years or so ago men and women your age were intimately involved in a brutal global war. They stormed the beaches of Normandy and other shores to fight their way past enemy positions. They got into planes to drop bombs or to try to protect bombers. They manned surface and submarine warships. They worked assembly lines, transported equipment, provided medical support, and a hundred other roles.

Most of these involved a huge risk of a horrible death. None the less, they got on with it. Most of them saw it as their duty. Some lied about their age or medical conditions to serve. The world is a better place for their service, and we should be grateful.

Now the boys and girls your age need to be warned about books that might contain facts that might disturb your precious world-view, or trigger a trauma. You are afraid of open discussion because you don't know how to do it. There seems to be little ability or even desire for a respectful exploration of differing opinions. There doesn't seem to be a recognition of the difference between fact and opinion. All too quickly it boils down to jingoism.

We have more means of communication than have ever existed before, and you spend more time tending your block lists than you do meeting your friends. You set up all those channels so they feed you what you think you already know, much of which isn't so at all. Remember, if the rich and powerful consent to something being publicly distributed, it's either flattery, advertising, untrue in a harmless way, or worthless. This explains why the "news" is filled with celebrities and sports. Real news is what the rich and powerful want to know for themselves, and don't want you to know.

Let me tell you about the world. It doesn't care about you and your opinions. Until very recently being stupid or even unlucky was a capital crime. The world would kill you and move along. Now that's much harder to do. We live in the safest society ever invented, and people still find stupid ways to kill or injure themselves. A second's inattention and a busload of people can die. That's the world, it will kill you if it can. If we don't figure out climate change fairly quickly, or how to adapt to it, our species is going to die. Perhaps most other lifeforms as well.

The world doesn't owe you anything. There is no meaning provided. There is no one true soul-mate for you. There is no special path or plan for you. Rainbows are pretty, but we all know there is no pot of gold at the end and it doesn't symbolize anything, it's just light diffracted through water drops. There is no one right career, no one right place to live. There is no right to children at all, let alone "perfect" children. There is a Happy Truck that delivers street food in Calgary, but there is no delivery of happiness or anything else.

What the world is, is opportunity. That's all. Opportunity for you to grow and learn from your mistakes. Opportunity to find others you like to work and play with. Opportunity to find someone to share your life with, and maybe have children if that's what you want. Opportunity to do things that make you happy and fulfilled. Opportunity to overcome hardships in pursuit of your goals.

All of this comes from within you. If you're not happy, it's your own fault. Figure it out, and make the changes. Or enjoy being unhappy, but don't bitch about it. The world gives you a simple choice. Deal with it, or die. You get to choose, and at worst you'll die trying. No shame in that.

So there you are, clutching your medieval gowns and a meaningless piece of paper. The ink on it doesn't mean you're educated or entitled to some particular job. It just means you've paid money and danced through organizational hoops. That isn't even worth congratulating you. Education doesn't particularly happen in schools, it happens in life. It's time for you to get on with it.

And by getting on with it, I don't mean that the world is a target to rape and plunder. We've had enough of that. To get anything, you have to earn it. Not necessarily money, that's just a useful medium of exchange. What's important is the people around you, how you treat them, and how you treat the world around you.

I've got no advice for what job you should take. It isn't important. I've lost count of the number of jobs I've had or done, and the current one didn't exist when I was your age. You are going to change jobs many times, and if you're smart it's on your terms. Wait too long, get complacent, and it will be on the world's terms and you won't like that so much.

A job is just one way of earning an income, there are others. There's many ways of earning a living, but there's only one way to earn a life, and that's by using what's between your ears.

Here's some advice on what is important:

  1. Pay attention to what you're doing, especially driving. It's the most dangerous thing you do and needs your full attention. No, you can't multi-task it. Please don't try.
  2. Defer gratification for a while. You'll be able to better afford it, and you'll appreciate it more. Much of what passes for gratification is just distraction. Ignore it, you'll be richer monetarily and emotionally.
  3. Rent for a while, probably longer than you think. Buying almost any house, almost anywhere, for almost everyone, just now is a really stupid idea.
  4. Spend less than you earn. Always. Unless it's life or death, then money doesn't matter. And really, once you start getting a surprisingly small amount of money, it doesn't matter any more.
  5. Spending money on a wedding is dumb. You've done nothing worth celebrating. Go to a justice of the peace, say I do, sign the paperwork, and get on with the hard part of it. Celebrate 10 years married. Now I'll believe you're a grownup. Really celebrate 25, that's something to be proud of.
Thats all I've got. More advice won't do any good. People never listen to free advice. So really, I should charge you a comment before I let you out of here.


  1. I like your list a lot. Easy to agree with but slightly harder to implement.

  2. The Happy Truck unfortunately can't even deliver on happiness, all it delivers is mediocre. The rest of your commencement address, a lot of tough love! I'll have Evie look at it when she gets older.


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