by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Attention: young people about to graduate college. Put down that beach ball!

This is not a typo. I went to graduation ceremonies at George Washington University last weekend, and all during the speech — made by a prominent government leader — the students were tossing a beach ball, punching it from section to section, like at a Jimmy Buffet concert. I kept waiting for someone to interrupt the future of global economy by yelling “PLAY MARGARITAVILLE, DUDE!”

Now, having sat through my share of commencement speeches, I know the problem. There is a tiny part of the college brain that clicks on just as the speaker steps to the podium. It is the part that says, “Get me outta here.”

Of course, you can’t go anywhere, since you are dressed like a dork in a blue gown with a cap on your head. Where are you gonna go, the mall? Dressed like that? Sha! And monkeys might fly outta my butt.

(ATTENTION ADULTS: This is a line from the movie “Wayne’s World.” You are not expected to know this. Please continue.)

So there you sit with your tassels, and the speaker begins, and your foot starts tapping. Then it stops tapping and your eyes close; and you recall that frat party that began last Friday and ended about eight minutes ago, and soon you are drifting, drifting, into a peaceful humming place and suddenly — POW!

A beach ball hits you in the face. Graduating into the real world

So clearly, we need to do something about commencement speeches. Otherwise, half the graduating class will have concussions.

Now, we all know that the speakers — like beach balls — are mostly hot air. No one ever tells the truth at graduation. This prepares you for real life.

But you, the college grad, are young. How can you distinguish between reality and fantasy without beer? Not to worry. In an effort to avoid more beach ball episodes, I am giving you my Guide To Commencement Speeches, so you can hear between the lines.

The following speech works for all colleges, including party schools. This is because all commencement speeches are the same, except when a school asks a celebrity to speak, like Jimmy Buffet, in which case all you need is

And you know that already, right?


Good morning graduates (those of you who are sober). I must tell you, I am flattered to be here today (and I am impressed with the size of the speaker’s check). I bring today a message of warning, but also of hope (this oughta fill 20 minutes).

You enter America at a crucial stage (do the words “near- disaster” mean anything to you?). We are on the brink of our greatest accomplishments (thanks to my generation) but also our deepest troubles (thanks to your generation). And what awaits you is a challenge unlike any other in American history
(except the last class I spoke to).

You have worked very hard in your four years here (Ha! You don’t know what work is!). You have studied great writers, great scientists, great philosophers (now there’s a waste of time). You have enriched yourselves with their knowledge (tee- hee). You have met the task of rigorous study and come through with flying colors (just make those student loan payments, or we’ll break your thumbs).

But life is more than just studying (and drinking till you puke). Many of you are now faced with the prospect of getting a job (Hoho! Fat chance!). The economy is troubled (try crippled) and making room for you, the new influx of workers, will be one of its greatest challenges (why don’t you all just go to grad school and save us the aggravation?).

You may find the road ahead a little bumpy (like a bus in Nepal), but bear in mind as you go forth (go home) that we need you to be your best (and stay off unemployment) to meet the challenges the world has put before you (start with global warming and work your way up). The knowledge you have gained in your four years here should be put to work immediately, solving the major issues of our society (you Art History majors should be great at this).

As you say good-bye today to friends and faculty (get their numbers, you may be asking them for work pretty soon) take comfort in knowing that the memories you made here (first time you got drunk, first time you smoked dope) will last a lifetime. You, like many of us, are at the crossroads (where the hell is the crossroads?) and the choices you make will affect the future of our entire nation (God help us).

We are counting on you, we are confident in you, and we salute you as you come forth (Sha! And monkeys might fly out of my butt.)

Oh, and by the way. Young man? May I have that beach ball? Thank you.


Welcome to the real world, kids.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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