My little sister had her high school commencement yesterday, and while I enjoy listening to an extended roll call as much as the next guy, my mind did wander. Specifically, I started wondering what kind of commencement speech I would give were I ever asked. I never would be asked, because normally schools ask their successful alums to come back and give speeches, and so far my greatest achievement has been getting McDonald’s to respond to allegations about the McRib being made of human meat. So yeah, corporate interactions aside, real winner here.
So since I likely won’t be in any real position to deliver speeches anytime soon, seniors, I’ll give it to you here. And I’ll even skip over all the boring stuff you hear in every other commencement speech. That the future is yours for the taking, you have the tools to succeed, and you’re all unique snowflakes.
That’s all bullshit. It’s bullshit because today isn’t about you.
That’s the big secret. This graduation ceremony isn’t really about you, regardless of how much everyone tries to convince you. You thought it was? You’re adorable. Ask yourself this: If today was really about you, would you be here? Would you really want to spend two hours sitting in this auditorium, listening to a bunch of recycled clichés about becoming who you want to be? I remember being in your position, and I sure as shit didn’t want to be sitting there. I wanted to be out enjoying the summer with my friends, having a bonfire, going to a movie or…doing literally anything else.
No, this ceremony is not for your benefit. It is for the family members seated in attendance. The people who supported you throughout your life. The ones who, despite explicit instructions to hold all applause and cheering until every student has been called, still clap and holler and blow air horns because HOW ELSE COULD YOU POSSIBLY KNOW THEY LOVE YOU.
This whole thing is for them, to gush over you and bask in your accomplishments. To see the result of their sacrifices and efforts. And that’s okay! For most of us, our parents deserve a lot for raising us. When I look back on the way I acted as a child, I would have found it justified for my parents to leave me on the side of a road with a sign strapped to me that read, “Don’t Bother.” But they didn’t, because they were much better people than I ever gave them credit for when I was growing up. Giving them the pleasure of seeing me be part of a ceremony celebrating my past accomplishments and potential future is, by no exaggeration, the least I can do. It’s the least any of us can do.
And that, really, is the true importance of today’s commencement. Because whatever your dreams may be, whatever version of yourself you envision, it all started with those people watching on. Think of today as the first lesson in the “You Aren’t as Important as You Think” textbook. You may accomplish wonderful things, but the foundation for those things had nothing to do with you. When you are congratulated for that promotion, or the business you started, or for applying that clown makeup like no other, remember that it isn’t just about you. Nothing ever really is. We don’t like to admit it, because we all like to think we are individuals propelled by our own awesomeness. But we all rely on people and things outside ourselves; we just rarely stop to give them credit.
So as you all go forward in your lives, please do not be the entitled, self-centered pricks that come as trademarks of being an American. Become more. And whatever you do, do not become the parent with the air horn at your kid’s commencement.