So I realize it’s weird for me to post another commencement address when I graduated from college thirty years ago. And I wouldn’t, if these speeches were ordinary. And maybe it’s because Hyacinth is in college now, and I find myself thinking about what’s in store for her when she graduates, what the world will be like, what opportunities she’ll have, and what advice I’ll give her. But I also think I like these speeches because they’re delivered by writers. David Foster Wallace and Neil Gaiman offer advice I wish I’d heard when I graduated from college. Maybe I would have taken bigger risks rather than the safer, well-worn path.
Actually, someone did. My friend Howard, who was a few years older than me, tried to warn me. We’d driven out to Fontana, a God forsaken city east of Los Angeles, to visit one of the foundries his family owned, and I remember telling him how much I wanted to write, and how miserable I was working for my family’s business. Howard had dreamed of being a professional cowboy or a rodeo rider or something like that, which sounds silly, I know, but he was actually good enough. The point is, he never tried. Like me, he went into his family’s business right out of college because it was what everyone expected him to to. It was the safe choice, the responsible, less-scary thing to do. Anyway, we were driving back to the city when Howard looked over at me. “You know, Baszile Metals will always be there,” he said. I understood what he what he was trying to tell me, but I was so rigid back then, so afraid of making a mistake, so terrified of the unknown, I just nodded. I wish Howard had taken me by the shoulders and shaken me, slapped me or thrown cold water in my face and told me to WAKE UP. But that wasn’t Howard’s responsibility. He was my friend, but there was only so much he could say.
It’s easy to dismiss these commencement addresses as hokey or too dreamy. It’s easy to say you’re too old to heed the advice they offer. But I can’t help but believe there’s something to them. These writers and artists are voices from our futures no matter how old we are. Even now, I find their messages inspiring, good reminders of what will happen if I left myself get too caught up, too hunkered down. The advice they offer still applies; maybe more so today than ever.