My 2021 Commencement Address

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!

2020 Commencement Address

Thanks to COVID-19, many graduating high school and college students might not get a commencement ceremony. However, I anticipated this and have this year’s commencement address already planned out!

To the Class of 2020,

Well, this is a little embarrassing.

We all expected there to be a bit more formality and structure in a commencement ceremony, but with things being what they are this year, we had to improvise. Fortunately, your school/college/university/junior college/barber college/clown college, etc., had the foresight to hire me to send you off into the next stages of your lives. That, and I work cheap and begged a lot.

Regardless of how I came to be before you in one fashion or another, my purpose is to inspire you to great heights with profound truths wrapped up in entertaining stories so you can enjoy these last few moments before you’re expected to know what to do with your lives. And once upon a time I would have given you such a speech, but in truth, I don’t know what I can say to inspire you to greatness. Heck, I’m not even sure what greatness is anymore, given there are people out there who get tons of money just by posting stupid stuff on YouTube. Granted, some of it is pretty entertaining, but after a while even the stupid stuff gets…well, stupid.

Yes, I am going somewhere with this, so buckle up.

As with any Internet fad, there are going to be imitators, and that means people looking to be or continue to be relevant will take another step beyond. You may be famous for eating five grilled cheese sandwiches in under a minute, but someone will either try to eat six in the same time frame or add some new twist to the challenge, like, say…adding rat poison to the sandwiches. And there will be people who will imitate this, even though it’s highly dangerous and utterly stupid.

If you doubt me, I have three words for you: Tide Pod Challenge.

The thing about stupidity is it grows exponentially and leaves a lot of pain in its wake, mainly in the form of headaches people like me have to endure. Whether it’s driving the wrong way down a parking lot aisle, paying more attention to a cell phone than to the people walking around us, or electing politicians who believe we need to arrest people exercising their First Amendment rights to protest a Governor’s decision, a lack of thought can create an abundance of problems for people we may not even know.

Remember the kids who defied social distancing requests on Spring Break? They didn’t care about catching COVID-19; they wanted to get a tan, a buzz, and possibly a communicable disease or two aside from COVID-19. Sure, they’re young and they need some time off from their studies to relax. And, of course, their concerns stopped at the end of their…noses. Not only is COVID-19 transmitted through the air (and I’m going to guess a lot of those spring breakers flew to Florida), you can carry it without having any symptoms. And let’s not overlook the people in the wet markets who thought eating a bat sammich was a good idea. Even if they are chicken of the cave. (Yes, that was an “Anchorman 2” reference because I’m hip and stuff.)

See what I mean about stupidity growing exponentially? You have a shortened school year and a lack of a commencement because people are stupid. So, how do we fix it?

Don’t be stupid.

We are drowning in information and yet thirsting for knowledge, or in some cases, sentience. If this trend continues, the meek will inherit the earth by default since the rest of humanity will be extinct either by offing themselves with the latest dumb stunt, being killed by other dumb people doing dumb stuff, or through blunt head trauma from beating our heads against the wall as we ponder the latest dumb stunt and why so many people are copying it. In other words, we’re dangerously close to having the movie “Idiocracy” become a historical documentary.

This is where you come in. You have been raised around technology, including the Internet, for most if not all of your lives. Lord Acton once said, “Knowledge is power,” so I’m asking you to be the knowledge version of the Avengers. I would ask you to be the Justice League, but their movie didn’t do that well at the box office. You were born to be the scribes of the Information Age, to be able to sift through the data and find the truth.

Or you could play Skyrim. You know, whichever.

Seriously, though, my time on this earth is growing short, but yours is just starting, unless you do stupid stuff and get yourself killed. And that’s the key. Stupid, just like knowledge, is a choice. All I ask is you choose wisely. Unfortunately, I can only give you one piece of advice on that front: question everything you know on a regular basis. The truth will always stand up to scrutiny while the stupid will fall away. Even if it’s something you’ve believed all your life, let it go. Fortunately for you, I’ll save you having to hear me sing that song from “Frozen.”

But I will leave you with the responsibility to figure out the fact from the fake, the smart from the stupid, and the butter from the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. Trust me, that last one is going to be tricky.

Congratulations Class of 2020!