Since no institution of higher or, for that matter, lower learning has asked me to give a commencement speech this year, I’ll share with you the speech I would’ve given to the graduating class of 2012 had I been invited.
It goes like this:
You’re doomed. (Wait for laughter to subside into tears.) But it’s not your fault. Or, at least, that’s what you’ll learn to tell yourselves. You were born into a world of unprecedented change and opportunity, you know, just like every generation before you (excepting those born in the 1340s who could only look forward to the plague). However, you’ve been deprived of the ability to live up to the clichés of optimism and progress because the years leading up to your prospective graduation were saturated with the notion that the world was going to end thanks to the ominously incomplete Mayan calendar, which runs out of dates this year.
The upshot to this is the fact that you probably took on more student loans than you should have, thinking the world would end before you had to pay them back. This also may account for the fact that you majored in a liberal arts discipline, which precludes you from ever earning enough to pay said loans back anyway. If the end were indeed nigh, well played, padawan. But as any archaeologist worth his bullwhip will tell you, Mesoamerican datebooks were notoriously shoddy. I mean why chisel into stone the entire calendar year for 2013 and beyond when a mere “Etc.” will do? Who knew the Mayan timekeepers were union guys? You didn’t and now you’re in debt – welcome to adulthood.
Given your precarious financial situation, it’s time to scale your dreams into more manageable units of unattainability. This way you won’t be crushed by a colossal sense of failure when you’re my age. Instead, allow your hopes for the future to wither gradually. It’s less painful to shake the sands of forgotten promise from your pockets than to crawl out from under a Sisyphean boulder of thwarted ambition. Everyday.
Also, break up with whomever you’re seeing right now and avoid dating until you’re 27. You haven’t met the person with whom you’re supposed to spend the rest of your life so stop pretending, fretting and being dramatic. Your brain development hasn’t caught up to your genitals yet. It’s an evolutionary trick that nature is playing on you. Don’t be fooled. Nature is cruel, just watch Animal Planet to confirm this.
When you are 27 and do find the right person and kids are in the future, start immediately. I’m old enough to be your father but I’m not your father because, like everyone else in Generation X, I waited until the last minute to become a parent. Now, I’m old and crabby and raising a kid who’s young and crabby. It’s a horrible cycle. You may fret that you’re not ready to have kids at 27 but trust me, you’ll never be ready. Your parents weren’t ready and you came out OK (apart from the crippling debt and no future situation). Even Kurt Cobain had kids by 27. He was a musician in a band called Nirvana. They broke up when you were 2.
As for your future employment, take any job you can get. The job you want is currently occupied by a Baby Boomer who refuses to retire. They pulled the same stunt on my generation. All we can do is wait for them to die. Given advances in medical technology, this might take a while – these people are like zombies. There must have been something in the drugs of the ’60s and ’70s that warped their biochemistry and enables them to keep going long past their expiry date. You’re just going to have to wait for that dream job. Like my generation still is.
Start saving for the future. You should have started yesterday but you were too busy admiring your mortarboard in the mirror. Word to the wise: Your ship is not coming in. It’s headed toward an iceberg called “reality.” Your savings is a lifeboat, just like the ones used by the rich guys in Titanic. Start building it now and with diligence it will be a financial yacht when it’s time to sail the seas of your 60s. Just to add a cautionary note to the metaphor, my generation is presently rowing upstream after clamoring over a waterfall in a skiff made from driftwood. And the river is made of poo. And the paddle was left behind with the rest of the fetish gear in a Nine Inch Nails video back in ’94.
And finally, whatever you do, never ever, under any circumstances take any advice from someone like me. It’s our duty to cast doubts so you redouble your resolve and become the amazing generation we’re all pretending you are. Congratulations, Class of 2012. We’re actually kind of rooting for you. Kind of.