Dear Graduating Class,

I know I wasn’t invited to give a speech. But, I am going to give you one anyway. And, unlike those other speakers who promise to keep it short but never do, I will keep this short. So, here we go.

There once was a deal. You agreed to this deal as soon as you left the womb. This deal was between you and your parents, grandparents, neighbors, extended family, principals, teachers, coaches, counselors, religious figures, business leaders and your politicians.

According to this deal, you were expected to go to school, sit still, stay quiet, do the pledge of allegiance, obey the rules, raise your hand, ask for permission to leave the room, perfect your handwriting, memorize your multiplication table, learn your vocabulary, turn your homework in on time, get a sticker, pass our tests, win the spelling bee, participate in extra-curricular activities, volunteer, take AP courses, hire an SAT tutor, fill in the ovals, maximize your score, and get accepted to college.

At college, you were expected to go to class, pay attention, follow the syllabus, attend office hours, stay in touch with your academic advisor, fulfill the requirements for your major, make the Dean’s list, write a Senior Thesis, put on your cap and gown, graduate with Honors, walk the stage, shake the College President’s hand, and receive your diploma.

In return for your sixteen plus years of meeting our expectations, you would get a couple of glowing letters of recommendations, a handful of job interviews, and at least one offer of employment.

At work, you were expected to show up on time, take orders from the boss, fulfill them with efficiency and alacrity, adhere to company policies, clock out at the end of the day, go home, go to sleep, and do it again the next day and the next day after.

And, according to this deal, if you did these things, then you would be rewarded. You would be promoted. You would climb the ranks. And, someday you would be the boss (well, unless you were a woman or a minority). You would earn big bucks. And, with those big bucks, you would pay off your student loans, buy a car, get married (well, not if you were gay), make a family (again, not if you were gay), buy a home, feed and clothe your kids, save for their college, go to the Grand Canyon, build up a nest egg over your working years, retire, get a gold clock, move to a lake, receive payouts from your pension, and enjoy the grandkids.

Your parents and your grandparents agreed to this deal when they were born (minus the college part for a lot of them).

It was a good deal.

You could build a life around that deal.

That deal is dead.

With globalization, continuous technological innovations in communications, and ever decreasing transportation costs, more and more people are showing up each and every day to do what our educational system programmed you to do at a lower price. The barriers to entry that you spent a lifetime building are falling all around you. The visible manifestations of your academic superiority – the tassels and medallions that drape your neck, your Honor Society membership card, and even your diploma – will not protect you. You loyalty and long-term employment with a company will not protect you.

The world has changed. Our education system has not. For the most part, it continues to operate as if the aforementioned deal is still alive. Let me be clear. It is not.

Now, this is good news for late-bloomers and those who felt as if they never fit in. You did not fully download the programming of our outdated educational system. For the rest of you, a tough road lies ahead. So, let me give you three bits of advice for moving forward:

1. You already have a mountain of student-loan debt. So, stay out of consumer debt. Someday soon you will want to move out of your mom’s basement or quit the job you could get to do what you want to do. Do not let your credit card statements hold you back.

2. Surround yourself with people who never liked having a kiss-ass list and did something about it. I am thinking of entrepreneurs, small business owners, and artists. Model their behavior. The future belongs to them.

3. Buy your domain name, build a homepage, get on social media and create an on-line identity. Use this platform to connect with those who inspire you. Read their blogs. Join in on their conversations. Use this platform to share what you do best with others. Be generous. Give it away. And, start building a community around you and your interests.

Yeah, I know. We pretty much screwed you over. But, on the bright side, you are going to need the determination, tenacity, patience, and discipline it took to successfully navigate our education system moving ahead. So, all is not lost.



If you enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy my This is the Work newsletter.

Thanks. – shawn