In the next few weeks college seniors will dress in garb copied from medieval universities, stride into their commencement ceremonies to the sounds of a triumphal march, and settle down to listen to advice from the leaders of business, politics, and the arts who will try to find the right words to inspire them.
Many speakers will agree with comedy writer Robert Orben, who said “A graduation ceremony is an event where the speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that ‘individuality’ is the key to success.”
Some will try to equal the words of encouragement of Winston Churchill, who said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm,” the advice from columnist Russell Baker “Listen once in a while. It is amazing what you can hear,” or the orders of Kermit the Frog, “You are no longer tadpoles. The time has come to drop your tails and leave the swamp.”
These are lofty words, but what these young people, with their smooth brows and firm chins looking up at the speaker, really need is guidance about how to live as a grown-up.
I have some for them. I would say that if you want to land a job in this tight market, remove the blue spray from your hair, take the rings out of your lips, and leave the spider tattoos to Abby on “NCIS.” Young men, wear your waistband at your natural waist, not down on the verge of indecency.
If you want to show evidence that you are adults, stop charging fast food on your parents’ credit card. You might even return it to them.
Now that you are an educated person, talk like one. Leave words such as “you guys” and “like” to undergraduates. Talk, don’t text, through a family dinner, a business lunch, or a first date.
Finally, respect your elders; you will be one yourself sooner than you think.
In addition to this advice, I would charge these young people to improve on the world that their parents and grandparents left them. These generations have made great leaps in technology and can now gather a vast amount of knowledge effortlessly. It is the task of the new generation to keep this power in check and make sure that the new ability is used for good and not for harm.
I would also warn them that the new ways of communication — e-mail, texting, and social networking — are not bringing people together but creating a distance between them. Do not forget the importance of human contact.
Finally, I would tell the Class of 2011 not to lose their inner child. Believe in themselves, and take the advice of your old friend, Dr. Seuss. “Be who you are, and say what you feel; because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
It’s your turn now. Make the most of it.