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The College Graduation Speech You Wish You’d Heard

Charles Wheelan’s
first job after college was to write commencement speeches for a governor,
offering "tidbits of wisdom" to graduating seniors, which was
quite remarkable given that he had just graduated himself a year before.

So he decided to tell the honest-to-goodness truth, in this mock speech
that he wished he had heard for his own college graduation:

In the decades since, I’ve spent most of my career teaching economics
and public policy. In particular, I’ve studied happiness and well-being,
about which we now know a great deal. And I’ve found that the saccharine
and over-optimistic words of the typical commencement address hold few
of the lessons young people really need to hear about what lies ahead.
Here, then, is what I wish someone had told the Class of 1988:

4. Marry someone smarter than you are. When I was getting a Ph.D.,
my wife Leah had a steady income. When she wanted to start a software
company, I had a job with health benefits. (To clarify, having a "spouse
with benefits" is different from having a "friend with benefits.")
You will do better in life if you have a second economic oar in the
water. I also want to alert you to the fact that commencement is like
shooting smart fish in a barrel. The Phi Beta Kappa members will have
pink-and-blue ribbons on their gowns. The summa cum laude graduates
have their names printed in the program. Seize the opportunity!

7. Your parents don’t want what is best for you. They want what
is good for you, which isn’t always the same thing. There is a natural
instinct to protect our children from risk and discomfort, and therefore
to urge safe choices. Theodore Roosevelt—soldier, explorer, president—once
remarked, "It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried
to succeed." Great quote, but I am willing to bet that Teddy’s
mother wanted him to be a doctor or a lawyer.

| More: 101/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said

See also: Graduation
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April 29th, 2012

Stranger to the World


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