The Commencement Address — or — How Not to End in Bitterness



This is the season for graduations so I was wondering to myself the other day what I would say if called upon to give a commencement address. Now I’ll be honest. I can’t remember who spoke when I graduated from the University of Montevallo. Not a clue. Can’t remember if it was man, woman, or child. Nor can I remember one single pearl of wisdom. I do remember that the cap messed up my carefully coiffed, 90s hair and that I had a really cute dress on under my gown. You know, the important things.

Anyway, if given the opportunity to send some graduates out into the cold, cruel world, what would I want to convey to all of those young, hopeful, up-turned faces who are so ready to leave school, but still have one long, boring ceremony standing between them and their futures, or at least between them and a big ole party. How would I inspire? Educate? Entertain? What would they remember?

This is what I think I’d say:

Students, parents, faculty, and friends, I’d like to welcome you to the Spring Commencement Ceremony for the University of Audrey, an institution founded on the triumvirate principals of practicality, horse sense, and gumption. We gather today to celebrate your achievements, honor your commitment to excellence, and commend you upon the completion of your matriculation.

As you go forth into the world, I want you to first remember that not all dreams really do come true. Yes, dear graduates, it’s true. You may reach for the stars and never catch a one. You may not even have a fleeting grasp of the barest handful of stardust.

But that’s ok.

You see, being able to pursue one’s dreams at the expense of all else is a privilege, not a right. And if you come from such privilege, well … lucky you, because it is nothing but dumb luck that caused you to be born with such advantage. And by this odd chance of birth you may have experienced the Midas touch so far, but it is by this same chance that one day everything you touch may turn to lead and not gold.

This is why I want you to be prepared. Prepared with the truth. With the harsh facts of life.

There are those among you who may never get to chase your dreams because of family responsibility, limited access, lack of opportunity, prejudice, or poverty. It will not be luck that moves you forward through life, but action — the actions you take to make a way for yourself, to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, to be as successful as you possibly can.

And of your achievements, whatever they be — the achievements that come from hard work and not happenstance, grit and not godsend, sweat and not serendipity — you should be inestimably proud. Proud of making your life happen, not waiting for it to happen or expecting it to happen.

It will be these accomplishments that will give you greater satisfaction and, thereby, greater happiness, than any gift from the gods, from the Fates, or from the universe, for as Flannery O’Connor her ownself opined, “To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.”

So go forth, my dear graduates, with moderate expectations, reasonable goals, and feasible dreams, and the hope of an end that is not bitter, but sweet — so very sweet — with contentment.

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