The Commencement Address I’ve Never Been Asked to Give


OK, here’s the emes: I’ve always wanted to give a commencement address.

Never been asked.

But since the new school year is beginning, and you might know a college president who’d like to book me for next June, I thought I might share with you what I would say.

To the graduates:

I have good news and bad news, so let’s get the bad news out of the way:

No one ever has to listen to you again.

You no longer have professors paid to read whatever nonsense you cook up half an hour before the assignment is due.

Now you will have bosses, clients, and investors, who will get rid of you the minute you prove you have nothing worthwhile to say.

This is what we mean by the Real World.

It gets worse.

Your parents don’t have to listen to you, either.

They will if you have something worth saying.

But otherwise, you’re out of the house.

At least I hope you are.

From now on, you will only get as much attention as you deserve.

You will no longer get attention simply because you are you.

That’s the real end of childhood–this moment right now, when you have to earn attention instead of getting it for free.

It’s actually a good thing, however.

It will cause you to measure your words and think before you speak.

Of course, you could go to grad school, where you will find more professors paid to listen to you, but I hope you only do that because you’re truly interested in a career that requires an advanced degree.

Don’t just go back to school because you don’t know what else to do with your life.

(That’s what I did.)

And now the good news.

All of you–indeed all of us, not just you graduates of this fine institution–have been given a most extraordinary gift.

This gift is called…consciousness.

You can’t see it, taste it, weigh it, or measure it, but it’s there.

Why we have it, we don’t know.

A lot of folks have made educated guesses, which we call religion, philosophy, and reason.

But we still don’t know for a certainty why we have it.

We don’t even value the gift of consciousness.

We drown it out with distractions, with trivia, with web surfing, with the news, with sex, and with drugs and alcohol.

[Wait for applause for sex, drugs and alcohol to die down.]

But now that no one has to listen to you, the wisest thing you could do is begin to listen to yourself.

Deep within you is a voice aching to be heard, aching to be understood beyond the clamor and clutter of everyday life.

You can call this voice God, the music of the spheres, your Muse, or by any other name.

That voice is your inner response to the world in which you live.

It’s your conscience. It’s your intuition. It’s your true GPS.

Instead of ignoring it, as so many of us spend our entire lives, listen to it.

That voice will never steer you wrong.

It wants nothing from you.

It doesn’t want to sell you something.

It doesn’t want to sleep with you.

It just wants to be heard.

It’s the greatest app in human history, and you don’t even have to download it.

You just have to pay attention.

That voice will tell you why you were created.

What your purpose is.

Whom you should serve, and how you can serve them.

As Stephen Cope writes in his wonderful book, The Great Work of Your Life, it’s a dirty lie to tell young people, or old people, for that matter, that they can do or be anything they choose.

Cope writes that ultimately, we can only be ourselves.

So it’s time to drop the masks, stop the pretending, quit the posing.

It’s time to begin the journey toward discovering who you are.

When you strip away the accoutrements of college life, your resume, material culture, and Western civilization, you are what remains.

Now that no one else has to pay attention to you, it’s time for you to pay attention to yourself.

The purpose of life is love and service.

Listen to that still, small voice within.

Determine whom you are meant to love and serve, and go to work.

Childhood is over.

Sorry to deliver the bad news.

Adulthood awaits.

That’s the good news.

If you listen to yourself, I guarantee you that everyone else out there is going to listen to you.

Okay, that’s the speech. Short and sweet.

I’m now booking dates for next June. Two nights in a nice hotel and coach fare from Boston.

Of course, if you’ve got an honorary degree you can spare, I won’t turn that down, either.

    As one of the most established ghostwriters in the nation, New York Times best-selling author Michael Levin has written, co-written or ghostwritten more than 100 books, of which nine are national best sellers. He appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank on January 20, 2012. In the past, Michael has published with Simon & Schuster, Random House, St. Martin’s Press, Putnam/Berkley, and many other houses. His works have been optioned for film and TV by Steven Soderbergh/Paramount, HBO, Disney, ABC, and others. One of his own novels became Model Behavior, an ABC Sunday night Disney movie of the week.