At Large : Get a job
I have four children, the youngest of whom will go off to college in September. Over the years - 31 continuous years of fathering - along the way I have delivered numberless commencement speeches at elementary school, secondary school, college, and graduate school graduations, not to mention assorted pep talks and locker room-type exhortations. I was not asked to give any of these talks. I certainly wasn't paid. Each one simply burst from me unsought and, in the event, I'm sure, unheeded.
Given this history, naturally enough, I've also heard a lot of actual commencement addresses from practiced, learned, esteemed, and exalted speakers. Most of these were asked to speak; some of them were paid. And yet, I've not been impressed, or at least not as impressed as I ought to have been, given the solemn majesty of each occasion and each speaker. As different as each of these speakers was from each of the others, they mostly said the same daunting things. Life is an adventure, throw yourself into it. You are the generation which will set things right. You hold the world and its future in your hands. You have been prepared for great things. The problems of the peoples of the world await the solutions you will devise. Make a difference. Join the Peace Corps. Join Americorps. Join an NGO. Get involved. Political leadership is the key, the most important calling. There are countless opportunities for public service; avail yourself of one of them. And on and on. Nothing wrong with any of this ethereal business, of course. But, nothing particularly stimulating, original, or down to earth either.
One might - I might - approach the commencement moment another way. For instance:
I've been reading, I might say, about life in college in one of those 1,000-page guides. They say, student body is very diverse, hard liquor preferred by most students, beer bashes every Saturday, professors have students to dinner, dormitories are like palaces, everybody smokes, on weekends kids head for the city, something to do every night, favorite majors are Malaysian literature and women writers of the Tuamotos, nobody studies, everyone passes, jocks are few and far between, politically active student body, everyone works for one Democratic candidate or another.
Today, at the conclusion of what have certainly been four years of social and intellectual feasting, you, the chosen of American youth, will set out on the great journey of your adult life. What will you make of it? Because, from now on, it's up to you. Herewith, some suggestions to get you started.
Find a place to live, and don't think you can move back in with mom and dad. The new place won't be a palace, naturally, and you'll have to pay the bills, but you'll be steering your own course.
Get a job. Oh, it won't be the job you'll have for life. No one does that anymore. You'll move from job to job, improving your prospects each time, but maybe not. And, the job you end up with most likely won't be your passion, the way the how-to-live-your-life coaches tell you it should be, but maybe you'll remain solvent.
Forget public service. Every college graduate in every college in every state of the union has been told to devote himself to public service. (Mostly the advice comes from politicians. Many of them have never met a private sector job they didn't abhor.) There'll be plenty of your college year class who'll staff the public sector. Don't you be one of them.
Get a real job, and then another, and when you figure out why the company you work for isn't doing so well, start your own company in competition. Work so hard that your company eats the other's lunch and then its dinner. Grow. Hire lots of people. Pay them well, treat them well. Give them health insurance and safe retirement plans. Ask a lot of them and reward the ones who answer your call. Make a private business contribution to the communities in which your business operates. Grow some more. Endow a chair at this university, in the business school. Maybe advise college students with a great idea to drop out of school and start Microsoft. (Wait, that's been done. Start something else.)
If you meet a politician with a rock solid belief in America and its exceptional history and future, make a contribution. Expect nothing in return. Ask for nothing.
Make a fortune, live comfortably, create a foundation. Fund the volunteer corps for discovering new ideas that will brighten the prospects and raise the living standards of not only Americans but of people who need a lift anywhere in the world.
And, invest plenty of your millions in new and growing businesses all over the planet, so they will prosper and hire and treat their employees well.
Sell your business to a smart woman with a new take on how to grow it even more.
Do a lot of sailing, because sailing is about the journey, not the destination or the speed.
Or, join the military. Be one of those terrific young officers who lead volunteer soldiers whose mission in our defense could not be more important.
Or, do something else, if you like. But, make it count.