Friends and family, faculty, and, of course, the graduates: I am honored that you have invited me to be your commencement speaker.
If you would have told me five years ago that I’d be where I am now, I would have said, “Why don’t you back up and give me some personal space?” Why? Because I didn’t know you then and what was it your business where I’d be in five years? It still sort of makes me mad. And, knowing you, you would have persisted, and I would have said, “Why are you so infatuated with what I’ll be doing in five years?”
Honestly, when I was asked to be a commencement speaker, I thought, “What’s the use?”
No one remembers their graduation speaker. Ask your parents. Graduation speeches are usually some old man pontificating about following your dreams and setting your sights high and roads less traveled. Bull roar.
For one thing, dreams can be tricky, because there are dreams where you start a revolutionary computer business, or where you’re at your parents’ house but it’s not really your parents’ house and they’re having a garage sale and you’re sitting in a bathtub full of cupcakes. So just forget the dreams thing.
My point is that commencement speeches tend to be dry and forgettable. I feel like it’s my obligation to make this commencement speech something you won’t ever forget, and doing that with mere words and wisdom and funny stories is, frankly, impossible.
And that’s why I’ve decided to release a family of lions into the audience. Granted, some of you will lose your lives and some will be mauled to that icky point where you’d rather be dead. Some will lose limbs but go on to secure respectable employment with reasonable wages, assuming you’ve retained the use of at least one arm. Others will mark great achievement in the artificial-limb industry—if not for yourself, then as a tribute to a fellow graduate. For the rest of you: Congratulations, you’ve made it. Welcome to the real world.
This isn’t some world where you can goof off for four years guzzling beer and stuffing your face with pizza. Because when you order pizza in the real world, you’ll find that the deliveryman has rigged a shotgun to fire when the pizza box is opened. And, as you bleed from the abdomen, you’ll hear the deliveryman say, “Welcome to the real world.”
The real world is a place where you go on a mountain retreat and stay at a charming cabin with a gurgling stream and a herd of deer grazing on the mountain grass out front. You’ll spot one that is tamer than the others, so you approach him, and he lets you scratch behind his ears and pat him on the head. After you’ve patted him three times, you find that the reason he’s so tame is because he’s plastic, and on the fourth pat his head explodes. And, as you wait in vain for your hearing to return, the cabin manager, standing nearby, says, “Welcome to the real world.”
Today, your world is a world of books and study, but tomorrow those books won’t mean a damn thing. Indecipherable. You’ll stare, trying to make sense of the pages, and, just as you feel your knowledge returning, slowly, painfully, there will be a knock at the door and a man in a hobo costume.
“Remember me?” he says. “We went to college together.”
“I was in college just yesterday,” you say. “I think I’d remember you.”
“Yesterday?” he says. “We graduated 27 years ago.”
And, looking around, you realize he’s right. You wonder where it’s all gone and realize you’ve been asleep, dreaming. Of what, you’re too embarrassed to say. Cupcakes, perhaps. As you begin to sob into your hands, you say to your college buddy, “I’m so sorry, Franklin.”
“Hayes, is that you?”
You go back to weeping into your hands and he embraces you. From the smell, you determine the hobo costume is no costume at all. But just as you begin to feel comforted—poof—he’s gone, and he took your watch. On your wrist is a blue plastic replacement watch from a cereal box. The time reads, “Welcome to the real world.”
There’s a lesson in that. Unfortunately, we’ve run short on time.
If I could give one piece of advice, it’s this: Don’t throw your hats up into the air, because eventually they’ll fall back to the earth and likely hurt somebody. And if you’ve been maimed or killed during my speech, then I apologize. It turns out I probably could have made my point without lions.