Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Caps and gowns

Caps and gowns and ignoramus string-pulled champagne poppers, oh my.

It’s graduation season and commencement addresses are in the air. I’ve delivered a few, including one paying tribute to Dr. Seuss, echoing his wonderfully apt Oh the Places You’ll Go. Seuss begins:

Congratulations. Today is your day. You’re off to great places. You’re off and away.
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

In my talk I employed a top-five list (be honest, seek challenges, be lucky, have fun, and change the world). Aside from Seuss’s brilliance, a few cool tenets – it has been four years since oration – surfaced:
  • Be honest (Mark Twain): "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."
  • Seek challenges (Sufi teacher): A great idea will come to you three times. If you go with it the first time, it will do nearly all the work for you. Even if you don’t move until the second time, it will still do half the work for you. But if you leave it until the third time, you will have to do all the work yourself.
  • Have fun: We’ve all heard the trite phrase: Those with the most toys win. I challenge you to change the T in toy to a J and you’ll be closer.
My favorite commencement addresses? Guy Kawasaki’s Palo Alto High School delivery, and the it-can’t-be-real (it’s not) Kurt Vonnegut MIT speech. (BTW, click here if you’d like to see a Stanford grad’s take on four sterling addresses.)

First, a few Kawasaki excerpts (read the entire address … it’s superb):
  • Delay, as long as possible, the inevitable entry into the workplace and a lifetime of servitude to bozos who know less than you do, but who make more money. Also, you shouldn’t deprive your parents of the pleasure of supporting you.
  • One of the biggest mistakes you can make in life is to accept the known and resist the unknown. You should, in fact, do exactly the opposite: challenge the known and embrace the unknown.
  • Play to win, and win to play: In its purest form, winning becomes a means, not an end, to improve yourself and your competition. Winning is also a means to play again. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the unlived life is not worth examining. The rewards of winning—money, power, satisfaction, and self-confidence—should not be squandered.
Fictitious Vonnegut (another must read):
  • Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.
  • Do one thing every day that scares you.
  • Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.
  • Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.
Los graduados de las felicitaciones, son hoy su día. Enjoy.

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