Congratulations, Class of 2018.
I am coming to you via this medium because your school administrators would never let me near an open microphone at your graduation ceremony. This is probably best for all parties involved, considering my heavy use of profanity, double entendres and the occasional dirty limerick (since most of you are 18, remind me to tell you about the “man from Bel Air” some time when your grandmother isn’t around).
Still, I feel as though I have an important message to pass along — one you likely won’t get from whatever ultra-successful business person or civic leader your school has decided to come speak to you. And while this little missive is slightly longer than the 280 characters you have grown accustomed to culling for all of your life lessons (thank God we’ve moved past the dark days of 140-character tweets), please hear me out.
I’m sure that, at some point during your graduation ceremony, you will hear some well-intentioned advice, either from a guest speaker brought in to add gravitas to the proceedings or from the students who are graduating at the top of the class.
I did not graduate anywhere near the top of my class. I have not risen to the top of my chosen profession or been elected to any sort of office. But here’s the thing: the majority of you have not and will not, as well. Congratulations to those of you who have risen to the highest levels in your class and will continue to do so for the rest of your lives.
The hard truth, however, is that many of you will find yourselves somewhere way closer to the middle than you will the top 1 percent. So I am not going to sit here and tell you that “the future is what you make it” or that you “have the power to change the world” or any of the other catchphrases most graduation speakers will be throwing out at ceremonies in the coming days.
I’m going to tell you that life isn’t necessarily the box of fluffy ducks that you are promised at your graduation.
There’s a very good chance your life isn’t going to turn out the way you envision it going right now. You may work hard from now until the day you retire and not achieve all the financial success you currently are dreaming of in that head beneath your silly-looking graduation cap.
Because, let’s face it, sometimes luck, timing and the vagaries of life play into success. There’s a very good chance people who work way less than you will somehow manage to rise to the top of the food chain, whether it be professionally or personally.
You may think you’ll find true love; you’ll probably figure out in short order (if you haven’t already) that you usually have to go through at least three “true loves” to find out what love really means. You are probably hoping you’ll be rich — but likely will figure out having enough left to take the kids to McDonalds after the bills are paid constitutes true wealth.
You’re probably planning on keeping your 18-year-old body for the rest of your life, because “I’m never going to stop working out, no matter what.” All of which sounds good until you have to put in a 60-hour work week and the kids start coming. Let me know how that works out for you as you are buying the double XL sweatpants so you have something to wear to Thanksgiving dinner.
But you know what? I’m not here to be the harbinger of gloom and doom. Because you know what? It’s OK if you don’t achieve all of the dreams of your youth. You don’t have to grow up to be rich and famous. You aren’t going to stay young and beautiful forever.
You don’t have to grow up to be the CEO or the CFO.
All you have to grow up to be is Y-O-U.
See, your life isn’t going to be the perfect scenario the typical graduation speaker is envisioning for every member of your class. Life is hard. It’s going to knock you down. Sometimes simply getting up in the morning and facing the drudgery of the daily grind at hand is going to be the greatest accomplishment you have all day long.
Some of the dreams you have at this very moment will come true — so don’t give up on them. But some of them simply won’t — but you shouldn’t give up on them, either. You will experience incredible highs — but you also will experience insanely frightening lows. You will have gains — material or otherwise — and losses.
Some days, the best you can hope for is the ledger all balances out in the end.
But keep fighting, even when it seems all hope is lost. Because it is the fight that is greatest thing in life — and far more rewarding than the amount of numbers that come before the decimal point on your paycheck.
Oh yeah … learn some dirty limericks. They always come in handy.
Reach David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong