We’ve reached that time of year when high schools, colleges, community colleges, clown and barber colleges, etc., look for speakers to address their respective graduating classes of 2021. Although I have put out feelers, I haven’t gotten any responses about whether I could join the ranks of such luminaries as Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, and Honker, the Horny Clown. (Granted, that last one is quite a get.) Even so, I am pleased to share the commencement address I would have given.
To the Class of 2021
Congratulations on making it this far in your lives. It’s only a matter of time before you begin new chapters in your lives, but before then, the kind folks at [insert name of academic institution] here asked me to share a bit of whimsy and wisdom. Plus, the money they offered was really nice.
Then again, why should you listen to me? After 2020, conventional wisdom and honest whimsy are both as endangered as the 14-Toed Albino Antarctic Snow Sloth. In fact, the last one got slaughtered while I was telling you about it. To be fair, though, I should have lead with that, so my bad!
And by now I’m sure someone out there already bored with my speech has Googled it and found out there is no such animal as the 14-Toed Albino Antarctic Snow Sloth and is already Tweeting it to their friends and family, as well as posting it on Instagram to tell people how dumb and dishonest I am. Well, remember what I said about the lack of whimsy? Yeah, that’s what I mean.
For all of the information we have at our fingertips, we have lost some of the most important data about how to survive in the modern world. In my line of work, there are three things you need to learn to take: a joke, criticism, and a punch. So far, I haven’t had to deal with that third one yet, but I have had plenty of opportunities to take a joke and criticism, sometimes from the same people.
First, let’s talk about taking a joke. I know the definition of comedy these days has been expanded to include unfunny socially-conscious material and revised to exclude funny not-so-socially-conscious material. But that’s not the point of comedy at all. The point was, is, and should be to make people laugh, thus…entertaining them. Even if the joke is the worst Dad Joke you’ve ever heard, it’s going to make someone else happy. And last time I checked, happy people tend not to do bad things, like shoot up schools, do or deal drugs, or, God forbid, buy another Nickelback album.
Don’t feel bad about laughing at a joke, especially one at your own expense, because it’s good for you! Science has shown when we laugh, the brain produces chemicals to help us relieve tension and feel good. And who am I to deny science, right?
Seriously, though, there are more than a few of you out there who need to lighten up, like, a lot! You have a lot on your plates worrying about the future of the planet, trying to prevent racism, sexism, et cetera-ism, and even finding a job right now, but it’s not healthy to worry all the time. Let’s face it, your generation’s role model, Greta Thunberg, is a slightly cheerier Scandinavian Sylvia Plath. Now, before you “How Dare You” me into oblivion, let me point out it doesn’t look like she’s having much fun protecting the planet. Surely there’s a happy medium between being super-concerned about the environment and being more laid back than Matthew McConaughey. And part of it starts when you realize one of Greta’s middle names is Tintin, which is also the name of a cartoon character. Believe me, I’ve been laughing my butt off since I found that out, and it also makes her serious policy statements a lot more entertaining.
But comedy isn’t just about entertainment. Great humor can also be informative, as we can see through the works of Mark Twain, George Carlin, and the opinion section of the New York Times. Granted, the Times’ humor is mostly unintentional, but we can still learn a lot from reading it. Namely, how being “woke” doesn’t make your opinions any less crappy or uninformed. And if you’ll notice, I didn’t mention “The Daily Show” in the mix of great humor, which is because it is neither funny nor informative. I firmly believe Trevor Noah is a giant Sominex that has gained sentience and a network contract.
And that brings us to one more aspect of taking a joke: humor is subjective. Everyone’s sense of humor is different, so just because you don’t find it funny doesn’t make it unfunny. That’s why “Friends” was on the air for so long, and it’s why I stopped watching it after I got bored. Who is wrong in that situation? No one. It simply means there is room for debate, as there is in most cases. And it doesn’t mean our opinions won’t change over time and we might enjoy the humor we missed in our younger days. Dismissing a person for not having the same sense of humor we have is like…oh, I don’t know…disowning relatives for not voting for a candidate we like.
The second take we need to consider is taking criticism. The first thing to remember when taking criticism is to figure out the intent of the criticism. From there, you can determine whether to take it seriously or toss it aside like a Jonas Brothers CD. The second thing to remember, and I’m going to say this with as much emphasis as I can…WORDS ARE NOT VIOLENCE. Just because someone doesn’t agree with your statement doesn’t mean they’re punching you in the face. It simply means they think your ideas are crap.
And if you’re even twice as smart as I was when I was your age, it definitely means your ideas are crap.
Now, before you “Okay Boomer” me into oblivion, let me point out a couple of things. First, I’m a Gen Xer, which means the only Apple products we got started on were of the IIE variety. That’s not an iPhone, iPad, or laptop. That was a computer they used to put on a metal shelf with rollers so it could be transported without anyone getting a hernia. If you think things are horrible now, try lugging around an actual boom box longer than the distance between your shoulder blades.
Second, everybody’s ideas at this age are crap. It’s a rite of passage that comes with being book smart (or at least YouTube smart) without being life smart. After a couple of years outside the protective bubble of academia, you start to learn how the world works and where you fit in the grand scheme of things. And, no matter how many TikTok videos you make and how many likes they get, you will probably be a cog in the machine for a while.
So, you have that to look forward to.
To be fair, there may be one or two of you out there who will make a go of it, so you’re not all doomed to a fate of permanent mediocrity; just most of you. And that’s okay! It doesn’t mean you will be mediocre all of your lives. It just means you have to get and keep realistic expectations. There will be a number of years when you’re going to live paycheck to paycheck and student loan payment to student loan payment, and that is when your life education truly begins. You will screw up and fail a lot, but if you didn’t, the education you’re getting wouldn’t be worth much. The ones who have an easy time of it are usually the ones you find out die of a drug overdose after graduation or whose lives go right down the crapper once they lose the protection school gives them.
Okay, enough of the doom and gloom. Let’s get to the uplifting, inspirational part of the speech, okay?
At least you don’t have leprosy. And if you do have leprosy…you’ll get better? So, yay, I guess?
The best advice I can give you as you work your way to the middle is to find your own joy in your world. It doesn’t have to be monumental or mind-blowingly awesome, either. Something as simple as a barista getting your latte order right or making all the lights on your way home can bring you immense joy if you’re willing to allow yourselves to be happy. That’s right, kids. There are times you have to allow yourself to be happy because the world is going to heck in a handbag. Yes, I know, that’s incredibly selfish to do, but it’s important for your mental health. You don’t have to solve the world’s problems 25/8. You are allowed to take a break to recharge and get back into the fight, and a little joy never hurt anyone, while a lack of joy hurts plenty.
Who do you think is having more fun in their lives, Greta Thunberg or Matthew McConaughey? Let me give you a hint: it’s the one who appears to smoke weed like Willie Nelson at Weed-A-Palooza on 4/20 in Amsterdam. Granted, that’s an easier choice than Coke or Pepsi, but it’s not without a reason. If you take yourselves too seriously, you will wind up like Greta, and for all the wrong reasons. If you learn to chill, you will wind up like Matthew, and for all the right reasons.
And if you really want to make a positive impact on the world, introduce the former to the latter’s stash.
Thank you and congratulations!