To the Class of 2013: hurry up and wait

There’s a corny old joke where this group of lemmings is stampeding off a cliff, when suddenly this one particularly ambitious young lemming elbows his way to the front before leaving the entire group in his dust.

“Geez,” one lemming says to another, “what’s his hurry?”

For those of you who are wondering just what in the world I’m prattling on about, that was the part of the commencement speech where the speaker starts off with a little levity to help ease the tension — his own and that of those in attendance.

However, in this case, it’s actually a thesis statement.

I’m not trying to be cryptic or morbid by using the metaphor of lemmings. After all, we are all “stampeding off a cliff” in our own ways. For some of us the run lasts longer than others but, on a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.

What I want to communicate to you can be summarized in a single sentence: hurry up and wait. What exactly do I mean by that, well, that’s a little more complicated. Of course it is. Nothing in life can be distilled to a banal platitude.

Those of you now graduating from high school (and most of you who are graduating from college) represent a demographic grouping of people who have done little more than consume. You have taken and taken and taken, and given almost nothing in return. Like a ravenous hive of honey bee larvae, you have gorged yourselves on royal jelly. Having devoured your fill of the material and spiritual resources provided to you by your loved ones, you are now considered “mature” and ready to venture forth into the waiting world.

And you are ready! Oh, you are practically falling off your seats to get out there and do your thing. I see you standing like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start. Watch out world, here you come!

Yes, you shall do great things! You dare to dream…  to achieve…  to make everyone who loves you proud and make all the haters hang their heads in defeat. Yes, now you are ready to…  jockey a cash-register at Walmart! To sell overpriced imported electronic appliances at Best Buy! Yes, you might even get to swing a shovel for a TxDOT road crew, or be the lowest-ranked roustabout at a local oilfield company!

What’s that? Not what you were planning? Yeah, about that…

On behalf of those of us already in the workforce, let me say congrats and best wishes.

But if you have any illusions about walking in off the streets and running the show, you better get to the back of the bus.

One of my first jobs out of school was at a metal fabrication company. It paid $10 an hour (not bad money for a 20-something back in the ‘90s) and I busted my ass 50-60 hours a week. The duties I performed were all the miserable tasks that none of the experienced guys (and certainly none of the supervisors) wanted to do. But I did it, and did it well. In time, I earned a bit more rank and responsibility within the company. Soon, it was a different young guy doing all the menial work.

I don’t care if you’re the class valedictorian or the class clown, whatever you want to do in this life you’re going to have to make your own way.

For a thin minority of you, it doesn’t matter. You were born on third base and you’re probably going to live your whole life thinking you hit a triple. I reckon you think you deserve what you were blessed with. I don’t know. But you’re not the intended target of this rant.

The rest of you, listen up. No one owes you a thing, and you don’t deserve a thing. If you want something, you’re going to have to work for it. Don’t tell me about your class ranking! Hell, India has more honors graduates than the U.S. has graduates.

Open your eyes, because your world is getting a whole lot bigger, and the things you’ve accomplished over the last 18-20 years just got a whole lot smaller.

Now your real education begins…   hurry up and wait.

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