I don't know if they told you what's happened while you've matriculated here for the past four years. The world is waiting for you people with a club …
Stephen Colbert, Knox College commencement remarks, 2006
Last Sunday, my wife and I watched our son graduate at the Mahaffey Theater as 400-plus mostly young, mostly smiling people walked (or danced) across the stage to receive their degrees from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
The fine ceremony skipped a commencement speaker. In the interest of time and given the typical pap of such orators, that was probably a good thing.
The truly insightful commencement speech, one that inspires and challenges and pushes graduates outside their briefly euphoric boxes, is a rare gift. If I were 22 and heading out into this economy, one — to paraphrase Stephen Colbert above — that waits for you with a club, I'd be looking for all the wisdom and guidance I could find.
On the plus side, the National Association of Colleges and Employers says businesses will hire 10.2 percent more college graduates from the Class of 2012 then they did from the Class of 2011. The bad news is that the unemployment rate for adults ages 20 to 24 is over 13 percent. And unpaid internships remain popular alternatives to having no job, and gaining no experience at all.
I've canvassed this spring's remarks by commencement speakers across Florida universities and colleges in search of the best commentary. I've also perused some of the better nuggets from past commencement speeches across the country.
First, let me add my 2 cents to the mix. Whether or not you have found work yet, whether or not you're heading back to live with your parents, whether or not you're delaying reality by entering graduate school, here's my best advice:
Stop the video game marathons. Get off Facebook. Start moving forward.
Too harsh? Who told you graduating would be a picnic? Sample these gritty graduation suggestions from economist, author and public policy expert Charles Wheelan, who recently delivered an "anti-commencement" speech to Dartmouth College grads.
Some of your worst days lie ahead, he said. "Be prepared to work through them."
Don't make the world worse, he urged. "Too many smart people are doing that already."
"Marry someone smarter than you are." (I can vouch for that wisdom.)
Your parents don't want what is best for you. "They want what's good for you, which isn't always the same thing," Wheelan said.
Some Florida graduates this spring were lucky enough to get decent advice from their commencement speakers.
At Edison State College, with campuses from Fort Myers to Naples, former CIA director Porter Goss told graduates their education and country give them a "head start" on the rest of the world. "You're starting way ahead of the pack," he said.
He didn't speculate how long they'd stay ahead.
Goss also criticized intelligence officials who thought they had the right information to justify starting the war in Iraq. They "were all wrong," Goss said in a teaching moment. Be independent thinkers, he said, and do not fall for the agendas of others.
At Miami Dade College, Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, reminded graduates of how much change will happen over their lifetimes, including growth of the U.S. population from 300 million to more than 500 million, with minorities becoming the majority.
Keep getting educated, he encouraged. Become informed voters. And serve this country in some way.
Some of Florida State University's graduates heard from Tampa native Frank (or "Francisco" since moving to Washington) Sanchez, the nation's undersecretary of commerce for international trade. "Believe in your dream, believe in yourself, and put yourself out there to achieve your dream," he said.
"This can feel risky. But taking risks is necessary for a life well-lived. … Find something outside yourself and make it better."
At the University of Tampa, Raymond James Financial chief operating officer Dennis Zank offered a 21st century, global competition update to the old "work hard, play hard" mantra.
Now it's "work, work, play," he said. "This motto is something deeply embedded into the Raymond James culture and reinforces the absolute necessity of hard work," he said.
So hang up those caps and gowns. Graduates: Start your engines.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]