My Graduation Speech.

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It’s that time of year where schools and universities pay a lot of money for bad graduation speeches.Life Stinks.

I want in on this.  I don’t think you have to be an alumni or a politician to bore people silly.

Plus, I could use the cash.  So, here we go.

Dear Students:

Congratulations on making it this far.  You thought high school and college was the best time of your life.

You were right.

Now the work begins.  If you can find it.

Adults in your life don’t tell you the whole truth, especially when you are graduating from high school or college.  They are just happy you are not in jail.

Plus, they love you.  They have to.  It’s the law.

They also don’t want to tell you the truth because they don’t want to watch you cry like a junior high boy

So I’m going to.

I’m not here to completely crush your hopes and dreams, but it’s probably going to happen so you might as well sit back and take it.

1).  Life stinks.

It’s hard and complicated.  Nothing about life even remotely resembles what you see on commercials or in vacation brochures.

Life isn’t a sitcom.  It’s a drama.  Or tragedy.  Depends on how lucky you get.

Your parents and grandparents have traveled a difficult path to get you here, so now it’s your turn.

Hold on, it’s going to be a bumpy road.

2).  Happiness.

Today you are happy.  There will be hugs.  And gifts.  And cake.

Tomorrow you will wake up unemployed and deeply in debt.

Happiness will have left the building.

This situation will improve for some of you.  Others will continue to wake up unemployed and deeper in debt for years to come.

I paid off my last student loan at the age of 35.  I got lucky.  That’s early.

Take my advice and expect the worse.  That way, if life doesn’t consistently kick you in the face you will be pleased.

Just for the record, anticipate a lot of face-kicking.

3).  Don’t Screw Things Up.

Just do what you are supposed to do.  Mow your yard.  Pay your bills (if you can find a job).  Be polite. Volunteer once in a while.  Don’t cheat on your taxes too much.

You will find yourself in the top 10% if you just pick up your trash and hold doors open for old ladies.

Don’t leave here thinking you are going to make the world a better place in the next 20 minutes. 

We don’t need more saviors.  We need solid citizens who don’t make things worse.

This sounds easy, but as you stumble through life look around and you’ll notice a lot of people who aren’t helping.

If you don’t believe me go to the mall and watch people walk by for 15 minutes and you will understand exactly what I’m saying.

4).  Get Married or Shack Up. 

I don’t care which one you do and I’m not here to judge.  I don’t care about your personal life because I have problems of my own (she’s 11 going on 37).

But when you do hitch your wagon to someone else try and pick someone you like.

Don’t do it for money.  Or looks.  Or so his or her dad will give you that job that you desperately need.

Marry (or not) a person who will make you smile 70 years from now.

Life is short, but bad relationships are forever.

There is nothing worse than eating breakfast with someone you want to stab in the eye with a fork (or so I’m told).

5).  Don’t Reproduce and Mate Smartly.

This is an important one.

If you are unemployed, in debt, immature, hung over, angry at your parents, wear sweat pants more than once a week, or dumb – please don’t think you have to bring children into this world.

They are lot of work.  And expensive.

Once you have them, the government won’t let you give them away (learned this one the hard way).

Life is a marathon not a sprint.  You don’t have to have children in your 20′s.  Or at all.

Just because people ask you "When are you having kids?" doesn’t mean you have to do it.  Most of the time they are just asking because they have children and want you to feel the pain and suffering they go through on a daily basis.

If you must reproduce, realize it is very likely you will be just as bad a parent as your mom and dad.

Think about this before you go to the bar and start hitting on another unemployed broke person.

Don’t create another human just so you can mess them up like your parents did you.  That’s not fair.

To you.  The child.  Or the rest of us.

7.  Your Parents.

They aren’t crying today because you are all grown up.  They are crying tears of joy.

They are tired of paying for you.  They want their house back.  And their lives.  They are tired of you tearing up their stuff. 

They no longer find a 2:00 am phone call from you amusing.  There is no such thing as a "minor" traffic accident when you are driving their car.

Look at them.  They used to be young and vibrate, then you showed up.  Now they are old and tired.

Tired of you.  Tired of your laundry.  Tired of your bills. 

Sure, they will say you are welcome to move back home until you get on your feet, but what they really want is you out of their hair and at least 2 hours away.

They only have a few good years left.  Don’t ruin it for them by mooching off them for the next decade.

Allowances are for kids.  Not 25 year olds.

You will know life is winning if you are sleeping in the same bed you occupied when you were nine.

Also, adults don’t have posters on their bedroom walls.

8).  Take Care of Your Health.

We are all day-to-day.

Life is short and soon you will be dead.  This is one of those things people won’t tell you.

But I guarantee you, not one person in this room will make it out of life alive.

Enjoy the few days or years you have left. 

Old people will constantly tell you life goes fast.  They’re right.

They didn’t get to be old by being stupid.

Certain days will drag on and on, but the weeks, months, and years fly by.  Faster than you can ever imagine.

The moments are precious.  In fact, as I stand here I’m asking myself why I wasted the last several minutes talking to you.

Slow down when you get a chance.  Don’t be in a hurry.  Take a nap at every opportunity, because this journey called life, while quick, is exhausting.

8).  Credit Cards.

Cut them up.  Pay cash.  Understand the difference between a want and a need.

Don’t try and keep up with the Jones’ down the street because it’s highly likely they are up to their….. in debt.

You don’t need a boat, horse, pool, motorcycle, 12 bathrooms, or a vacation home to be happy.

New cars are for suckers.  Never invest in a sure thing.  Stay out of Las Vegas.

Understand the stock market always drops.

Always save for a rainy day, because all of us are about 30 seconds away from a monsoon.

True happiness is not tensing up when the phone rings because you think it might be a bill collector.

True happiness is having at least $1 more at the end of the month than you need.

9).  Diplomas.

They mean nothing.

It’s a piece of paper.  A piece of paper you could have printed up for yourself 4 years ago (it’s called Photoshop people).

Life is about who you know and being in the right place at the right time.

Some of you will obtain doctorates and fail miserably.

Others of you will know people who dropped out of high school and have become quite successful.

Life isn’t fair. 

The sooner you figure this out, the better off you’ll be. 

Don’t be afraid to work.  No job is beneath you.

You don’t get a fancy office and a big title just because you cheated your way through school.

You get those things after you work hard, not before.

10).  Expectations.

Set them low.  Really low.

Hope for the best, but expect the absolute worst.

The odds of you being great aren’t good.

That takes luck.  And a job.  And more luck.

Set your sights on being mediocre.

Mediocre is fine.  Mediocre can make you very happy.

The world is full of mediocre people.  There is only one Bill Gates.  There’s lots of you.

In conclusion, I would like to share the secret to life. 

A wise old man once told me to "Show up and shut up."  I suggest you do the same.

Good luck.  You are going to need it.

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14 Responses to “My Graduation Speech.”


  1. Diane
    on May 1st, 2012
    @ 9:04 pm

    “We need solid citizens who don’t make things worse.” That’s more or less how I’m raising my kids-to be productive members of society. Really wish more people would do the same.


  2. Karen Marcus
    on May 2nd, 2012
    @ 6:30 am

    O my Michael, now I am so depressed I want to cry.


  3. Kristi Lonheim
    on May 2nd, 2012
    @ 7:23 am

    I love it! Wise words to live by. I shall send it out to a few cherished graduates this year.


  4. Kelli
    on May 2nd, 2012
    @ 8:00 am

    It’s funny cause it’s true.


  5. Kelly
    on May 2nd, 2012
    @ 9:50 am

    Wow, truer words were never spoken. My son is a graduate of TCHS class of 2008 and a soon to be graduate (10 days and counting) of ISU. I have said these things over and over and he’s starting to understand it. I wouldn’t necessarily say “expect the worst”, but just understand that at some point the worst may happen and be prepared. Thanks for putting it in print!


  6. Alicia Manuel Kessler
    on May 3rd, 2012
    @ 8:16 am

    618 sense of pragmatism?

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Alicia Manuel Kessler, Yes.


  7. Brian
    on May 4th, 2012
    @ 6:29 am

    Michael.

    Very well written. Your wit and truthfulness shine in your speech. I plan to keep this tucked away if I ever get the opportunity to speak to a graduating class.
    -Brian


  8. Pat
    on May 4th, 2012
    @ 6:23 pm

    Oh my goodness! This made a great dinner conversation and my hubby and I could relate to each one!!! This was awesome! I think you left one thing out:
    Print or save this speech in a safe place and pull this out when your children are graduating. You will be able to appreciate this so much more than right now!


  9. jerry januszewski
    on May 5th, 2012
    @ 6:53 am

    Cynical. I understand being realistic and not dishing out the sappy happy talk one usually hears in commencement speeches, and you make some valid points, but the overall tone and content is more appropriate for the faculty room as a joke speech, delivered tongue-in-cheek for your staff’s amusement. I certainly hope you didn’t deliver this speech.

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @jerry januszewski, I haven’t… but I would.


  10. Marcus Byrd
    on May 7th, 2012
    @ 11:45 am

    Posts like this is why I read your blog! Such an encouragement!


  11. Michelle
    on May 8th, 2012
    @ 7:23 am

    As the mother of 21 year old twin graduates, Amen! I have been teling them these things for the last 4 years. I think one is getting it, the other…..it may be a while longer. I will definitely be showing them your blog. For some reason kids always listen to someone else before their parents.


  12. Bella
    on Feb 4th, 2014
    @ 1:20 pm

    I have never heard a more blunt and truthful thing in my life. It made me feel weirdly sad and relieved at the same time.

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