A Commencement Speech for the Class of 2013

Here’s what today’s college graduates need to hear, but probably won’t.

Here’s the commencement speech that members of the Class of 2013 probably won’t hear, but that I wish had been given to me when I graduated:

Dear Members of the Class of 2013:

Go fail!

That’s right.

At college, failure is something students try their best to avoid. It’s punished. If you fail your course, you don’t get to graduate.

But out in the rest of the world, failing—or, more accurately, the knowledge, skills, character, relationships, and experience accumulated while failing—is valuable, and almost a precondition for success. Before Henry Ford started Ford Motor Company, he founded an unsuccessful company called the Detroit Automobile Company. The bestselling author of The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown, failed as a musician. Dr. Suess’s first children’s book was rejected by 27 publishers. Thomas Edison tested more than 1,600 different filaments for his lightbulb before settling on the right material.

That doesn’t mean you should try to fail. Obviously, it’s better to succeed. But neither should you avoid doing things just because there’s a risk that you might fail. The real trick, after all, isn’t being so cautious that you avoid all failure; it’s having the resilience and persistence to recover from failure and go on to flourish.

Learn how to read a profit and loss statement and a balance sheet. Many graduates of liberal arts schools may be going out into the world without much knowledge of accounting or financial literacy. If your college failed to teach you this, go learn it somewhere else. You will find it useful. Which brings up another point…

Keep learning. Even if you aren’t going right into graduate school or a professional training course, you’ve got to keep learning, because a fair amount of what you’ve learned in college may well be obsolete by the time you come back for your 25th reunion.

Don’t expect to have one job, at one firm, forever. College students do a lot of their learning from professors who have tenure, that is, lifetime job security. Those jobs are rarer and rarer even in academia. In the rest of the world, even jobs that were once permanent, like law firm partnerships, are now conditioned on continued performance. If you keep learning, you’ll be ready when you need to find a new job, or create one for yourself, a few years down the road.

Teamwork matters. Your diploma has just your name on it, but in the rest of the world, a lot of important work happens in teams. In college, if you work too collaboratively with other students you can get in trouble for cheating. In the rest of the world your success will depend a lot on how well you work together with other people.

Intelligence is overrated. Intelligence is a quality that’s prized on college campuses, but if it’s not combined with other qualities, such as humanity, humility, and common sense, one risks ending up like the guy who got his Harvard Ph.D. for suggesting that America modify its immigration policy to give a preference to high-I.Q. immigrants—highly educated, out of work, and pretty much irrelevant to the public policy debate.

Children are a blessing. College students spend a lot of time trying to avoid getting pregnant. Before you know it, you will be spending time trying to get pregnant. Children may interfere with your work and your sleep but for many of you they will be a source of both challenge and deep satisfaction. Which brings us to…

What is important in life. If your college professors and your classmates did their job, they made you think through some ideas about what is important in life. Different people have different views of this. But you should try to have your own view and try to live your life in a way that measures up to your principles, goals, and ideals. If you do that, you aren’t just doing what your parents or professors or mentors and supervisors at work tell you to do — though their input may shape your own ideas. You’ll be living your own life thoughtfully. You’ll be able to judge for yourself if you are succeeding or failing, and before you know it, you too may have accumulated enough wisdom to risk sharing what you’ve learned with some future class of college graduates.

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  • GILMORE||

    Couldnt this be shortened to, "You people are fucked"?

  • felicia755||

    my best friend's sister-in-law makes $66/hr on the computer. She has been out of a job for 5 months but last month her payment was $21303 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more here http://www.fox86.com

  • IceTrey||

    Technically Edison didn't find the "right" filament material, which would be tungsten. He used carbonized bamboo.

  • jemkem06||

    my neighbor's mom makes $66 an hour on the internet. She has been without work for 5 months but last month her income was $16989 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more on this site grand4.com
    (Go to site and open "Home" for details)

  • WomSom||

    Dude makes a ll kinda sense, I like it.

    www.Secure-Web.tk

  • silkeden||

    Beautifully written article. It lends a sense of proportion as well as perspective. And it rests upon virtuous action.

  • jillian77||

    my co-worker's half-sister makes $69/hour on the computer. She has been without work for six months but last month her payment was $15232 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on this site http://www.fox86.com

  • ||

    one risks ending up like the guy who got his Harvard Ph.D. for suggesting that America modify its immigration policy to give a preference to high-I.Q. immigrants

    Uhh, don't we kind of do that already with preference to degree holders in certain fields guiding our employment-based visa distribution? And in any case, what does this say about intelligence being overrated? One guy with a Ph.D from your alma mater published a paper you disagree with so intelligence is overrated? On the aggregate, is it better to be more intelligent or less? It's an interesting question considering the decidedly metropolitan, some might say elitist, sensibilities of the Reason editorial staff. Something tells me our humble Worcester and Harvard educated correspondent isn't exactly spending his weekends cracking Buds with Billy Bob - or cracking cervezas with Jorge Gonzales, for that matter. It's a lot easier to make such proclamations when you've spent your entire life ensconced more or less exclusively in the world of intelligentsia.

  • ||

    That aside, I wish somebody had given me the rest of this advice when I was 18. Particularly the "Go fail" and "What's important in life" bits.

  • triclops||

    What he should have pointed out is that the ability to delay gratification is the biggest predictor of success and is more important than an IQ score.

  • silkeden||

    Correct! 'Grit' is also a defining factor: passion and perseverance for long-term goals. This outweighs IQ when it comes to success. A lot of research from positive psychology discusses this-- along with willpower and self-regulation.

  • Monty Crisco||

    It is also a newspaper sold by feckless young people...

  • ||

    Both fair points, but he used the term "intelligence" and not IQ. The extent to which the latter is an all-encompassing definition of the former is debatable, and probably determines to a certain extent how the message is received. For my money, there's really no situation in which less intelligence is preferable to more.

  • Monty Crisco||

    "Children are a blessing."
    They certainly were to Kermit Gosnell - dude made a fortune!

    But seriously, why the fuck does everyone have to do the whole "Oh, children are the thing that gives life meaning" fucking song and dance everywhere you fucking turn in our society? For fuck's sake, some of us just DON'T WANT KIDS. Now, I know that makes me the equivalent of a homosexual in the world of Rick Santorum, but what the fuck? Are people that decided to ride out their accidents REALLY that much more enlightened and blessed than me?

  • ||

    This may surprise you, but some people actually have children intentionally. They aren't all riding out accidents. But really, it's either right for you or it's not. I think the following point on "What is important in life." highlights that. For a variety of reasons, I am leaning toward not having children either, but there's no denying that you're fighting a million years of biological programming in doing so, and that very likely will have certain psychological and emotional ramifications.

  • WilliamGiannone||

    up to I looked at the bank draft that said $9772, I accept that...my... friend woz like actualy taking home money in their spare time at there computar.. there dads buddy had bean doing this for only about 19 months and a short time ago paid the mortgage on there place and got a brand new Cadillac. read more at, www.up444.com

  • waltercollin||

    Aaron. if you, thought Clarence`s comment is flabbergasting... last saturday I bought Mazda MX-5 after bringing in 5948 this past 4 weeks and a little over 10 grand this past month. it's actualy the coolest job I've ever done. I started this eight months/ago and straight away started to bring home minimum 71, per-hour. I went to this site, ............http://www.Mojo55.com

  • JohnD||

    Why can't the Reason moderators do something about these idiotic spam messages? "My sister made xxx dollars doing whatever"

  • Wesley Mouch||

    You didn't write that.

  • lukescott610||

    my buddy's sister-in-law makes $62/hr on the computer. She has been unemployed for 10 months but last month her paycheck was $20013 just working on the computer for a few hours. Go to this web site and read more http://www.sea12.com

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