I was not asked to be a commencement speaker this year. That comes as little surprise. In fact, I would imagine that if you were to poll all the top educational institutions in the country, the number of those choosing a fake coach to talk to their graduates approaches zero. But that doesn't mean I don't have anything to say, so here I present to you what I would say, given the chance to address UVa's class of 2014.
Thank you. [I would say thank you first, because undoubtedly someone with more qualifications than I would introduce me and attempt to convince the graduates that I was a worthwhile choice as a speaker, and not simply chosen because I agreed to take my honorarium in the form of a $25 Bodo's gift card]
Today begins your journey into adulthood. That's why they call it a commencement. Did you know that commencement means a beginning and not an ending? They also call these final exercises, which is an ending, so today we have an ending and a beginning in the same place, much like a snake eating its own tail. I'm not really sure where I'm going with that, but it's a great visual.
Soon, many of you will venture out into the world in search of employment. As our country slowly crawls back from the precipice of the great recession, you are likely concerned about your job prospects. Fear not. As most of you are liberal arts majors, even in a good economy, the bulk of you would be unemployable. The fact that now there are even fewer jobs available for someone whose crowning achievement was a thirty page paper on the use of color in Jane Eyre will not have a statistically significant impact on your employability. As Janis Joplin said, freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose, and boy howdy are you guys free right now. Use that freedom to turn your music up loud, loud enough to drown out the voices in your head saying, "I should have gone to commerce school."
This of course doesn't apply to those of you in the hard sciences. Whether you decide to engineer seeds for Monsanto that require farmers to pay an ASCAP-like royalty every time they sell of an ear of corn, or help the Army go green by developing a zero carbon footprint bomb, you will be employed. Every day you will grapple with the crushing realities of what you unleash on this earth in the name of progress, but you will also have health insurance, so really it's a wash.
Some of you have chosen to get journalism degrees, which can only mean that you did not actually consume any journalism until you had already picked your major. The journalism landscape has changed significantly over the past several years, and employment opportunities abound as long as you are willing to work for free. But fear not, because whether your free work is for The Atlantic or Bleacher Report, you will get exposure, and exposure is a currency in the new economy. It's like Bitcoins, but more stable. It can be redeemed for twitter followers, blog readers, and Facebook likes. However, it cannot buy food or houses or healthcare, so I suggest you marry an engineer.
The fact is, no matter what your chosen vocation, you will soon feel the weight of adulthood slowly bearing down. The crushing student debt, the responsibilities of having to provide for yourself, and the likelihood that your new employer will require a drug test will begin to take their toll on your psyche. You may be tempted to move back in with your parents, but in all likelihood your parents were forced to move back in with their parents at some point in the last few years, and you really don't want to have to share a bathroom with Grandma, especially now that she's on that fiber kick. So you will have a tough decision to make.
Some of you will feel that pressure and elect to go on to grad school in order to delay the inevitable. Your education will become even more specialized, your knowledge more granular. While this will help you to be the erudite entertaining one at classy dinner parties, it also means you won't be invited to any classy dinner parties because you will be earning less than a living wage teaching Rousseau to bored first years.
So congratulations to you all. Whether you intend to be unemployed, underemployed or even shamefully employed, remember that we all have an invisible shot clock ticking down. Make the possession count.
That's a basketball analogy.
I will now say several other basketball related things that you can apply in your mind to the real world and convince yourself that I said something really deep.
Share the ball. Communicate with your teammates. Have sound fundamentals. Trade good shots for great shots. Be a complete player. And most of all, embrace the pace!