Every May and June it’s the same humbling story. Thousands of colleges and high schools hold graduation ceremonies. Almost every one features a commencement speaker.
Once again, no one has invited me to the lectern. Yes, I know, I’ve mentioned this before. I’m sure they’d rather the graduates — all those Emilys, Madisons, Aidans and Ethans — be lulled to sleep by some pompous politician, wheezy academic or well-known celebrity than by me.
I’m a writer of opinions. The fact that no one wants to hear what I have to say never stops me from saying it. So here’s the 13-minute speech — that’s the optimal length for a commencement address, according to the experts — I would have given had anyone asked. I’ve written these pilot commencement addresses many times before. And still, no takers.
I’d begin with a familiar request of the graduates and their loved ones:
Turn off your cellphones. No, don’t set ’em to silent. Power them down. Put them away.
No one wants to read your live tweets of the ceremony. No one on a stage wants to speak to hundreds of people staring at their phones. Take pictures later.
Here’s an idea, graduates: Experience what life was like before the 1990s by turning off your phones regularly. I’m sure I’m not the only speaker suggesting this today, so pay attention.
I dare you to go to the beach or the park without being connected. Try shopping without your phone. Eat dinner without snapping pictures of your plate. Enjoy the fireworks on the Fourth of July without whipping out your cellphone for photos.
Your friends won’t tell you this, but I will: No one wants to see pictures of your food. Your blurry firework snaps are of no interest to anyone. Your text messages are banal. Like everyone else’s.
Live in the moment. Including this one. Stop trying to memorialize and curate every event so you can engage in shameless humble-bragging on social media. Just be, at least once in a while.
Do yourself and the world a favor and lose your face mask. Unless you’re medically fragile, of course. Young people are experiencing an epidemic of mental illness. Isolation makes it all worse.
Masks do next to nothing to prevent the spread of COVID, which for most of you amounts to a head cold, anyway. Face coverings do, however, inhibit interpersonal relationships.
The world needs to see more smiles right now.
So throw the damn things away. Or do what I did with mine more than a year ago: burn ‘em.
Look, I’m old. It’s been many years since I wore a cap and gown. So here are a couple of secrets I’ve learned — some from personal experience, some from watching my pals — for a semi-satisfying life.
If you’re a man, buy a nice silk tie. Wear it occasionally. Like on job interviews. To weddings and funerals. There will be a lot of funerals as you grow older.
If you’re a woman, buy a good dress. One that covers everything and isn’t sprayed on. Wear it occasionally. To job interviews. And to funerals. Did I mention that you’ll get to a point in life where these are more common than weddings?
Don’t get tattoos that can’t be covered by clothes. Fashions change. So do trends. Better yet, skip the ink on any body part that’s likely to sag later in life. That’s just about all of them, by the way. Trust me.
Don’t make a sex tape.
Don’t walk by a panhandler without giving him or her a buck.
Don’t date a married woman. Or a married man. It’s slutty and it rarely turns out well.
Don’t date your boss.
Don’t drink tequila and wine on the same night. Pick one or the other.
Oh, and pace yourself when it comes to booze. You’re young. You don’t have problems so big they need to be drowned in liquor. Those come much later. Learn to be a responsible social drinker. They’re so much more fun to be around than drunks.
Don’t get married in the fall. Unless you really don’t care if those of us who love college football send our regrets.
Don’t forget to vote. Unless you know nothing about government, the Constitution or how things work. In which case, do the rest of us a favor and stay home.
Don’t procrastinate. And if you ever find yourself writing for a daily website don’t wait until midnight the night before to write a post. Oh wait, that’s a note to self.
Goodbye, graduates. And good luck.
Now turn your phones back on. Take selfies. And tweet your hearts out about your soporific commencement speaker.
This column has been republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed & Unedited.