Opening Remarks: Advice For Graduates

If at first you don’t succeed, just be yourself

It’s high school and college graduation time again and, as has been the case for as long as I can remember, my invitation to speak at anyone’s commencement must have been caught in my SPAM filter.

But, hey: You’re a captive audience, or at least have been up to this point in the column, so perhaps you would be willing to hear my advice to the younger generation, if only they had asked.

Naturally, I would have enjoyed putting on a graduation robe and balancing one of those goofy mortarboard hats on my head while dispensing wisdom, but instead you’ll have to conjure a picture of me sitting in a recliner, feet up, watching a Texas Rangers baseball game while typing this instead.

And here’s what would have been my premise: When it’s all said and done, are you better off blending in and following the crowd, or are you better off following yourself?

I ask this because of something I read the other day concerning the failed Times Square bomber in New York City. An adviser at the bomber’s college was contacted by the media, and his comments about the bomber were both sad and instructive:

“He was personable, a nice guy, but unremarkable,” the adviser said. “If this didn’t happen, I probably would have forgotten him. He didn’t stand out.”

From birth, we’re told we’re special, and we can make a difference. We’re told that if we follow the plan, if we go to the right preschools, attend the right high schools and colleges, get the right jobs and hang with the right friends, we’ll live life to the fullest. We believe that if we can run with the crowd, and keep running beyond the capabilities of the others in the race, eventually we’ll wind up making our mark.

But speaking as someone who has been running for quite a while, that’s really not how life works. Look at people like Lady Gaga or Bill Gates or Bob Dylan or Alex Rodriguez or Steve Jobs or any number of other people, famous and otherwise, who are icons in their own right — not only didn’t they run with the crowd, they practically ran away from it on the way to becoming rich, famous and successful.

When it’s all said and done, are you better off blending in and following the crowd, or are you better off following yourself?

The real lesson to be taken from their lives and applied to ours — particularly those who are just beginning their lives as opposed to those of us who have already found our ruts — is that they’re living life the way they want to live it, and it seems to be working for them.

Instead of worrying about what everyone else thinks, these people are succeeding because they like themselves, and they like themselves because they’re doing what they want to do, the way they want to do it.

My commencement conclusion: Running with the crowd won’t get you where you want to go. To be happy, be yourself. You’ll find out soon enough that’s a lot harder than it sounds.

Time to throw those mortarboards in the air now …


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