A piece at the Wall Street Journal has been making waves recently by billing itself as “What They Don’t Tell You At Graduation.”
The one trouble with this piece is that all the observations seemed vaguely familiar — from graduation speeches.
Here’s what they really don’t tell you.
1) Next year, you will probably be unemployed, or live in your parents’ basement, or be unemployed and live in your parents’ basement. This is not cruel. It is factual. Fifty percent of new graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. And 29 percent of 25-to-34 year-olds live in what the poll-taker was kind enough to refer to as “multi-generational living arrangements” rather than “your mother’s basement” or “your old room with all the anime posters and Admiral Ackbar figures carelessly splayed on every surface.” You will probably have the urge to respond to this by going to graduate school. Why not? Your only areas of expertise so far are “lacking marketable skills” and “having lots of debt,” so this is a logical next step. Later, when your six friends who did manage to find jobs after college wind up getting booted from the workforce, they will be unable to compete ever again because everyone around them will have six PhDs, at least one of them in a useful field that does not include “Medieval” in its name.
2) You will keep in touch with friends, but not the ones you thought. Of the friends who were so obviously friends for life that just before graduating you lovingly tattooed each other’s names across your faces, some will stay in touch and others won’t. But this is okay. That person from middle school you never talked to will wind up in the same city and turn out to know good places to play Skeeball, and a few years later you might wind up in each other’s weddings. Speaking of weddings. . .
3) When you hit a certain point in your 20s, everyone around you starts to get married, for no apparent reason and without any warning. This is first cute, then alarming, like Justin Bieber. First you go to one wedding. “This is nice,” you say to yourself. “Open bar!” Then suddenly it’s like popcorn kernels. Several start popping at once. Poofy white things surround you, along with the vague smell of burning. “This is fine,” you say to yourself. “They are my friends and I am happy for them! Open bar!” Then by your sixth or seventh you become the disgruntled person wandering from table to table in unsteady new heels muttering that “You know, all relationships end in break-ups or in death.” On the bright side you stop being invited shortly after that.
4) In life, no one rewards you for performing mundane tasks. You do not get gold stars for cleaning your shower. Most effective cleaning product commercials are based upon the false premise that a bald man or anthropomorphic sponge will give you a high-five once you finish grouting the tile. This is seldom the case, unless you accidentally inhaled some of the cleaning product as you worked.
5) Regardless of anything the rampant college hookup culture has taught you, you are suddenly expected to Start Going On Dates. You are no longer you; you are a Single Person who needs to Find a Human Companion, if only so he can accompany you to weddings. This leads to actual dates, with actual people, where you have to sit at restaurants with or without tablecloths and talk about your hobbies and/or interests. Otherwise you’ll wind up at the candy shower alone! That’s a fate worse than halitosis! (Adulthood consists of the creeping realization that the events you thought romantic comedies made up to generate conflict actually happen.)
6) Something strange happens to music as you age. You can remember more and more of it, and you notice that the hip youngsters around you cannot. This is deeply alarming. Before you age out of the coveted 18-to-24 demographic, take as many audience preference surveys as you can so that you can continued to enjoy entertainment for a few years after your views cease to be relevant.
7) Being young isn’t everything, but it’s a good thing. Life can be divided into two sections: the years when you know that if you fall over you are unlikely to break a hip, and the years when you’re not so sure. Enjoy your time in the first half! You are probably going to live a long time, thanks to modern medicine. Of course, you will spend most of your life trying to fund your parents and grandparents’ elaborate health and retirement benefits, benefits premised on the basic belief that they will never die and that until they do, they deserve to live in a style generally reserved for absolute monarchs of the 18th century. Voting will not change this. They outnumber you. So what I mean is: Make those weekends count!
8) As Cynthia Heimel says, “There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap.”
9) You have no idea how personal finance works. Actually. There are only two things that your education should have taught you: how to deal with having money and how to deal with not having money. (“Go to grad school?”) It has taught you neither. Instead, you know the names of Renaissance poets and different things you can do with ribosomes in the privacy of your home. People have offered Millennials financial literacy tests and their only conclusion is that we have no idea what to do with money. Save it? Spend it? Invest it in something that will accrue in value over time, like ironic wall-paintings of Michael Jackson? Who knows? You had better figure it out quickly, though, before someone arrests you for tax fraud.
10) Some days will be better than others. Some days will be worse than others. If you are lucky enough to be graduating now, you will have the creeping sense that all your worries fall under the heading of First World Problems. “No one who owns this many sweaters is entitled to be unhappy,” you will tell yourself. This is wrong. Let yourself be unhappy because it will tell you what needs fixing. When your body feels pain, it alerts you that something is wrong. If the 1950s taught us anything, it is that you can only spend so much time pretending to be contented before you rupture something.
11) No one in book club has ever read the book.
More on commencements:
Further sundry Petri opinions:
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