With my younger son graduating from high school this year, I have been paying attention to commencement speeches for the past month. I have been giving it a little thought and I am convinced these are the easiest speeches to write and deliver since there seem to be no rules, and apparently no minimum qualifications required of the speaker. That sounds like a perfect set up for the Contrarian, and since no one invited me to speak this year, I will share my draft speech with you here:
To the Class of 2015, congratulations for completing the required schoolwork. Instead of receiving your diplomas today, we have decided to give you a more useful tool: a mirror. Hopefully you will use it wisely.
This is not the last day of your schooling, but the first day of the rest of your life. In fact, every day is. Do your best to treat it that way. But more importantly, take your mirror at the end of every day and look at it and then ask yourself how you did that day and why. Be honest. And be brief. Then move on. This daily test is how to measure success.
How did I do? That’s it? Yep. The hows and the whys are the key to life. Who, what, when and where answers are data. How and why answers are reasons. Ask and answer these questions of yourself every day.
So now that you have the process, how about some substance.
The best advice I ever got was to listen. Sounds simple right? Well it wasn’t when I was your age. I had to learn how. There’s a difference between listening, and waiting to speak. Don’t confuse these things.
Next, fame and fortune are not measures of success. Unknown people often ask how a rich athlete, movie star or big time politician can make such stupid and costly mistakes. It’s because fame and fortune doesn’t make them any better than anyone else. The daily talk with the mirror is a better test than a tax return or the number of Twitter followers one might have. Fame only really serves one’s ego, and fortune is nothing more than fuel. Again, don’t confuse them with success.
Successful people consistently work on their personal health. This cannot wait and your commitment to it should never end. Healthy people think more clearly. Healthy people pray better. Healthy people have more to give. Healthy people are beautiful. No hairstyle, clothing, piercing or tattoo can contibute to any person’s beauty more than a healthy lifestyle. The mirror will not mislead you on this.
Like it or not, as an adult in America, you now own the government. Behave accordingly. Vote. Pay attention to what it is doing. Complain to it when you disagree with it. And when you are happy with it, tell it so. Run for office. Do it because you have crazy ideas. And don’t be afraid to lose. There is value in that. Join a political party. When it starts acting stupid, leave it. When using the mirror on this one, ask yourself when was the last time you spoke to your government. If you haven’t done it lately, commit to change that.
Finally, the happiest, most successful people spend most days, even if it’s just a portion of each day, making someone else happy. If you are looking in your mirror at the end of any day and you cannot recall a contribution you made to someone else, that day was a failure. Don’t stand and stare, but acknowledge it for what it is. Did you hold a door for someone? Did you make someone smile or laugh? Did you donate to a charity? Did you set a good example for someone who needed it? There is no amount of money, fame, prestige or possession that will be enough to replace the value your contribution to others has on your own happiness. Smart people forget this. Smart people also debate it. But those people are not as happy or successful as they could be. Ask the mirror about this every single day of your life.
Congratulations on your graduation. It marks the end of what must seem like a long learning experience. But it’s not the end. Hopefully your experience in school taught you how to think. Not what to think, but how to think. You are going to need that skill every day. If you talk with your mirror, it will require some thought. If you want to be successful and happy, you will pass your daily mirror test more often than not. Life can be that easy.
In closing, after hearing all of this wisdom and evaluating whether it makes sense to you at all, you may decide that it sounds like a bunch of BS. If that’s the case for you, I encourage you to start a blog. Well, that’s what I did.