Class of 2006, as I look out upon your faces, I see a generation on the threshold of a major transition, stepping out of the halls of study and into the many and varied causeways of modern life. As you do, I ask that you keep in mind the simple metaphor I’m about to present to you.
Think back on the time you’ve spent in college, the time studying and laughing with friends. You’ll find a memory that makes you feel confident and hopeful. Perhaps it was when a teacher inspired you to try your best, when somebody you love told you that you were unique and special, or when you realized that every day is a new experience, a wonder of learning and personal growth.
Now imagine that this treasured moment is something delicate and precious, the first fragile bud of a flower perhaps, or an ornate porcelain figurine.
Now I ask you to visualize the heaviest, most cumbersome sledgehammer you’ve ever seen as its weight is pummeled down in full force upon your precious little happy moment. Again and again and again. Then picture an enraged rhinoceros that runs in and does a frenzied dance upon the shards and remains of what you once held dear. Finally, picture a pack of cackling baboons that descend from the trees and thoughtlessly urinate on the smithereens of your fondest hopes and memories.
Class of 2006, I cannot stress this enough: it’s all downhill from here. From this day forward, your ideals and hopes will serve only to weigh you down and diminish your productivity as you carry out the tedious, pointless tasks that society demands of anonymous responsible adults like you have now become. Rest assured that the lofty ideals of honesty and integrity that you have been taught must be discarded, for they leave you incompetent to compete on even the most inane reality television show, not to mention the dog-eat-dog world of modern America.
Perhaps some of you are confused. For the last years of your life, you have been told that you are special, that you have to “hold on to your dreams,” and “believe in yourself,” because “you can make a difference.” These ideas have been carefully placed in your head by public relations executives hired to make sure that you didn’t lose steam as you accrued job skills and wrote out tuition checks in a timely fashion. Rest assured: the checks have all been cashed. You can safely get discouraged. You do not make a difference and never will. If you had been paying attention during your statistics class, you would know that an individual human being is nothing more than a blip on the chart, a margin of error that can be safely ignored.
From here on out, the only significant thing you can do with your dreams and talent and imagination is to go into the advertising business; they’re always looking for teams of creative people who are willing to let their talent slowly dwindle as they regurgitate their youthful ambitions and ideas in order to create new inspirational catchphrases capable of deluding a new generation into ignoring the hopeless, treadmill-like meaningless to today’s modern world.
Maybe you will go into the soul-crushing world of law and insure that even the pettiest dispute escalates into a legal battle that destroys friendships and drags on for years. Or take on the fruitless pursuit of medicine, and make a fortune helping people squander their life savings in trying to forestall the inevitable curtain of death that descends upon us all.
Or perhaps you, too, would like to join the ranks of academia and do your part to perpetuate the meaningless charade. The possibilities are endless. Those with a talent for writing may find themselves engaged in writing mind-numbing dissertations on the frequency of transitive verb usage in Jane Austen. Passionate musicians may find yourselves frittering your lives away teaching cord changes to the sullen and apathetic, Ritalin-engorged children of overambitious and controlling parents.
Yes, from engineering household appliances designed to break down as soon as the warrantee expires to creating fine-print layouts intended to keep consumers in the dark about carcinogenic pharmaceuticals, this world offers an almost endless abundance of ways to compromise your ideals and betray yourself.
Sadly, some of you might not heed the wisdom of my words. Some will go away still believing in themselves, believing that they can go out there and discover new ideas, forge new trails, leave this world better than it was when they found it. To those of you foolish enough to keep dreaming, I can only live you with the simple but immortal words of Marcus Aurelius: “Operor non narro ego did non praecipio vos.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you.