My 2024 Commencement Address

After years of trying and failing to get selected as a commencement speaker at an institute of learning, I finally got a response. Granted, it was a restraining order, but I count that as a victory.

Aside from that legal paperwork, I am still waiting for that call, email, text, note tied to a rock thrown through a window, etc., so I can wow them with my rhetorical prowess. Or just get a nice check for talking for a few minutes.

Hello, soon-to-be-graduates of [insert name of educational institution]! As you prepare for the next stage of your lives, I’ve been asked to give you some words of inspiration to send you off in style, ready to take on the world. But instead, I’m going to level with you.

As the great philosophers Three 6 Mafia once said, “it’s hard out there for a pimp.” And when you consider pimping is selling sex, you know if it’s hard for them, it’s bad. I mean, really bad. And you know who’s to blame?

Taylor Swift.

I mean, she’s being blamed for everything else, so why not throw her under the bus for this?

Seriously, the world you’re about to enter is vastly different than what you may believe it to be. Up until now, you’ve been on Easy Mode. Sure, you may have had some hiccups along the way, but nothing you (or your parents) couldn’t overcome. Once you graduate, the difficulty level goes up.

Now, you’ll be expected to fend for yourselves, whether it be in college, the military, the trades, or the corporate world. While it could be done in previous years, it’s not quite as easy as it once was. Prices have gone up, wages have been stagnant, and any starting position won’t be as glamorous or as fulfilling as you’d like.

As the great philosopher Norm Peterson once said, “It’s a dog-eat-dog world and I’m wearing Milk Bone underwear.” That’s what the outside world is like, kids. Constantly having to make decisions that will have short and long-term implications. Pay for a night out, or pay for a week’s groceries? Hang out with friends at a bar, or hang out with friends at a cramped apartment? Take in a movie, or take in the sights? A lot of adult decisions crammed into a brain that is still developing.

So, no pressure.

And that’s on top of the other stuff that’s going through your minds. Things like politics, climate change, the war in Gaza, the economy, growing tensions here and abroad, I could go on and on, but I won’t because I don’t want the school to void the check before I can cash it. So, let me throw in a bit of hope.

All the big stuff you think you have to deal with? All of it is beyond your control.

Now, you can look at that revelation in one of two ways. You can either be monumentally depressed and close yourselves off from the world, or you can be glad the weight of the world is off your shoulders. As you take the next steps in your lives, you have to decide which perspective you want to have and plan accordingly. One path will lead you into dark, angry places where you have no joy. The other path will open up new avenues to find your joy.

And the best part about it? You have time to figure it out. You’re young and, hopefully, have a long life ahead of you. Not everything is going to make sense yet. It took me two years of working at a dead-end telemarketing job to realize how much the government takes from your paycheck and how little you get in return. Sure, you can get active in politics and vote like an adult, or at the very least a slightly more mature child, but as the great philosopher Tripper from the movie “Meatballs” once said, “It just doesn’t matter!”

Kinda selling the joyless life, aren’t I?

Maybe, but it’s with a twist. One of the hardest lessons I learned in my young adult life was to pick my battles. Figure out what you can control and what you can’t. Unless you’re going to volunteer for the war in Ukraine and move to the front lines, you aren’t going to move the needle on ending it. But, if you focus on putting away a little money here and there and live frugally until you get on your feet, you still won’t have an impact on the war effort, but you might set yourself up for a better future.

That’s what I mean by picking your battles. Knowing when your efforts are going to make a difference in your life. If you need emotional fulfillment, try volunteering. Take up a hobby or two. Spend time reflecting on what you want to do, how you want to do it, and what you believe. Tomorrow’s bumper crop starts with today’s planting. Once the seeds are planted, it’s up to you to figure out how to make them grow.

And failing that you could always get into politics, where some of the biggest dunces on God’s green earth get paid handsome sums of money for being mediocre at best. You don’t even need experience being a dunce, either! They will train you on the job! Granted, you might have to leave your integrity and anything resembling a soul at the door, but if you’re willing to aim for the middle, I’m there for you!

To everyone else, all I can ask is to aim higher than the middle. Sure, you will miss a lot of the time, but that’s how we learn. Nothing in life is supposed to be easy. If it were, everyone would have astronomical starting salaries, a company car, an expense account, and opportunities for advancement just waiting for you. But not everybody can have that. I mean, what would the children of rich parents do in that case?

What I’m trying to say is don’t sell yourselves short. You are going to screw up because you’re human, and young humans at that. As the great philosopher Pete Townsend once said, “Don’t try to run before you’ve figured how to crawl.” Take your time, look around, and enjoy those little moments we all have. Take in a sunset or a sunrise. Smell the flowers. Reflect on the simple beauty that’s all around us if we just open our eyes wide enough. And most of all, stop looking at your phones and start looking up. Not only will you gain a better perspective on the world, but you’ll be less likely to run into me at the grocery store.

So, let me close with a saying that’s held me in good stead all of my years. As my grandpa used to say, “Hey you kids! Stay off my lawn!”

Congratulations, Class of 2024!

My Commencement Address – 2023 Edition

Yep, it’s that time of year again, and once again nobody has reached out to me to give a commencement address. Not a college (barber or clown), not a university (Hamburger), not a community college, high school, junior high, or even kindergarten. I almost had a speaking gig at a preschool graduation, but they pulled out after getting a copy of my speech. Who knew there would be so much outrage at the use of the word “motherfucker”?

So, I offer the following speech that will once again go unheard because of reasons I really don’t quite understand. Here goes!

Hello, Class of 2023!

It is a pleasure to be attending your graduation from [insert name of school] and to provide you with some helpful and inspiring words as you enter the next stage of your young lives. Unless, of course, you’re a late bloomer and took a while to graduate because you have an idea of what the “Real World” has to offer.

If you fit into this category, don’t spoil the ending, okay? Let it be a fun surprise.

Anyway, here’s the helpful part of the speech. Get the fuck off your phones! Seriously, turn them off. Especially if you’re on them right now to Tweet about how lame a speech I’m giving. First off, it’s rude to ignore a speaker for personal reasons. If you want to tell me how lame my speech is, wait until after the speech to tell me in person. Preferably after I’ve cashed the check.

Second, you’re missing out on the best part of life, which is not to get a TikTok video to go viral. After COVID, we should avoid having anything go viral. Know what I’m saying? The point is life is full of beauty if you’re paying attention. And, no, a selfie of you with a sunrise in the background isn’t the same as being there at sunrise just living, breathing, vaping.

Okay, so that last one is optional.

That phone in your hand puts you in touch with the world, but it also distracts you from it. That, and the advent of narcissism so rampant in society today, makes us all virtual and actual assholes. Maybe you missed this during your studies while sending an Instagram post about how awesome some flash-in-the-pan pseudocelebrity is, but society requires at least some recognition that other people exist.

I know. It shocked me too.

And here’s another shock for you. Other people might not think as highly of you as you think of yourself. That’s right, kids. People might just have…different opinions! And with those different opinions come a choice: accept the differences and find ways to connect, or be a miserable overbearing motherfucker.

Guess which one I think you’re going to pick.

Now, guess which one I hope you’re going to pick.

Here’s a hint. The two answers should not be the same.

After over 50 years on this rock we call Planet Earth, I’ve seen humanity make a turn for the worst. The fact we have “Karens” roaming about free should be enough evidence of that. And this kind of shit is going to continue unless we stop thinking of ourselves as the center of the universe.

And that means, yes, getting off your fucking phones.

The way to make human connections is to get away from the inhuman connections technology has made. Life is full of great little moments that occur between humans unfettered by ideology or technology or whatever other ology you want to apply here.

Like love. Not the media version of love, mind you, but actual “ride or die” love. As shocking as it may be to you, I am a happily married man, but I wouldn’t be if I hadn’t decided to open my mind and heart to a woman who is my polar opposite in so many ways. We’ve learned an important lesson that I will pass along to you: you don’t have to be disagreeable to disagree. We have yet to have a real fight in almost 10 years of marriage. Have we had angry or emotional exchanges? Absolutely. Have we had low points in our marriage? Yep! Are we still together in spite of our differences?

Let me check with my wife first.

Kidding! We are still together…unless you know something I don’t.

Either way, we make it work because we respect each other’s opinions even if we don’t agree. And if a big oaf like me can do it, I’m reasonably sure that at least 20-30% of you can.

Provided, of course, you…get the fuck off your phone.

Inspired yet? If not, well…I got nothing.

Thanks for having me!

My 2022 Commencement Address

Greetings, friends! Once again, no one has asked me to give a commencement address (probably because of all the f-bombs from last year’s address). However, that didn’t stop me from writing one for this year on the off chance no one with the power to schedule speakers decides to go back more than 1 year.

Members of the Class of 2022, you’re probably wondering why I called you all here today. Let me start by saying it’s an honor to speak to you, and I’m not just saying that because I’m the last person standing between you and walking across this stage getting your diplomas. I’m no math major, but I know there are more of you than there is of me. As I don’t want to be overrun by angry students, I’ll keep my comments brief.

The past couple of years has taught us the value of being flexible in the face of adversity, and let’s face it, we’re pretty much in a constant state of utter fuckery these days. Under the circumstances, we are hard-wired to look for possible solutions, which is admirable, but also might make things worse. That’s why it’s important to think before you act.

Granted, you’re at a time in your life when you think you know everything. As someone who felt that way when I was your age, let me tell you the truth. You don’t know shit. It’s only through life, knowledge, and the occasional alcoholic beverage (except White Claw, which is this generation’s version of Zima) that we figure out how much we don’t know. For example, I’ll bet most of you haven’t even heard of Zima, so you wouldn’t know how much is sucked, thus you wouldn’t know how much White Claw sucks. It was only through trial and error America was able to find out Zima was flat Sprite made alcoholic and it was eventually phased out of production…until recently.

There’s an old saying, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Originally, I thought my junior high history teacher made it up to advise us of what summer school would be like, but it’s actually a bit older than that. In short, it means we need to look back sometimes to avoid future mistakes, mainly because the mistakes we make today tend to have roots in the past. Every so often we’ll see something “new” come along that is merely a repackaging of an idea that sucked before.

For example, let’s look at democratic socialism. On the surface, it seems like a good idea, a fusion that allows for people to vote for what’s best for the rest of the country. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, here’s the catch: we’ve tried both democracy and socialism separately and they didn’t turn out so good. If we combine the two, it will be two dark fates that fail great together.

Even if you don’t want to go into history to find a reason to object to democratic socialism, a little critical thinking will do the trick. After all, if we’re allowed to vote in socialism under it, would we be allowed to vote it out again? I’ve asked that same question and haven’t gotten a response yet, but after a few years and a few more drinks, I think I’ve figured out why: it’s because answering it would expose its proponents’ commitment to more socialism than more democracy. Now, I could be wrong, and if I am, I’ll eat my hat. Then again, it might be the only thing I’ll have to eat, but I’m a man of my word.

After that last section, you may thing I’m some right wing curmudgeon pooh-poohing anything that would move this country forward. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m far more libertarian than I look and sound. Basically, I want everyone to live their lives to their fullest and achieve what they want, so long as it doesn’t harm innocents or demands my sanction. In short, just leave me alone and don’t demand I foot the bill for what you want to do. I can be persuaded, but I don’t take kindly to being told I have to agree or else I’ll be subjected to horrible things like…being called names on the Internet.

Believe me, it’s not that big a deal. I’ve been called all sorts of names in my day and I’m still here. That’s because age also brings perspective. Does someone calling me a racist, homophobe, etc. really affect my life? Not really, because I know who I am. And that’s something that comes through life experiences, especially for all of you right now. Even a year on your own can change your minds. Be open to those changes and let them happen. Then, challenge them on regular bases to see whether those lessons still hold true and whether your beliefs match those lessons.

One other thing and then I’ll leave. In all of these changes you’ll experience, there is one belief to always hold dear to your hearts: don’t eat convenience store sushi, especially if it’s in the clearance area. But if that’s not inspiring enough, remember to be kind. It doesn’t take much, costs less, and means a lot.

Congratulations, Class of 2022!

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!