Stay Away From That Place That Buys Human Hair

Graduating from college sucks. It’s just awful. If you’ve failed to line up a job during your senior year, then commencement marks your transition from scholar to slacker. If you have managed to get your inexperienced ass employed, then it … Read More

By / December 25, 2006

Graduating from college sucks. It’s just awful. If you’ve failed to line up a job during your senior year, then commencement marks your transition from scholar to slacker. If you have managed to get your inexperienced ass employed, then it commemorates your shift from scholar to abused underling, since there’s no such thing as a good first job. Even if you’re doing something impressive to parents—med school, say, or i-banking—chances are good that you won’t see sunlight again until your thirtieth birthday. Graduation is that rare ceremony celebrating a change for the worse. Commencement speakers know this, and so usually they organize their speeches around a set of useful fictions. Follow your dreams, they tend to advise. As long as you never stop working at becoming rich, saving the world, and achieving fame, you’ll be happy. Which is why we loved the graduation speech Ben Karlin recently gave at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin. As the executive producer of both the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, Karlin has done pretty well in terms of the getting-rich-saving-the-world-achieving-fame trifecta, but three weeks ago he announced that he was stepping down from both TV shows. At UW’s winter graduation, Karlin advocates neither grinding labor nor basement-dwelling slackerism. Instead, he tells the audience of kids on the brink of one of life’s most unpleasant transitions that happiness in life tends to come from…doing stuff that makes you happy.


Chancellor Wiley, Faculty, Parents, Friends, Family and Students of the Class of 2006. Specifically… Abbott, John Phillip Ably, Emily Karen Abrahamson, Christopher Eugene Abram, Alexis Marie I have the whole list you know. Ackerman, Joseph John Adams, Brett Addison, Kathryn Lynn Adelstein, Rachel Louise Don’t worry, only 2463 to go. Ader, Lilian Adler, Leah Catherine …. It is indeed a great honor for me to be here this afternoon. When I was a student at UW, I worked at The Daily Cardinal and covered the Badger football team. My job was to try and write positive stories about a football team that—back then—was winning two games a year. That's when I knew I had a future in fake news. But today, I am proud to stand with you. And I really am standing with you. I stand on this stage, on this globally warmed December afternoon, feeling very much your kindred spirit. In fact, see if you can relate to this: I have spent the last several years working very hard doing something I love. But I will be moving on from that world in a matter of days. The last 4 to 7 years have been spent in a structured yet friendly and fun environment. I’ve made amazing friends, lived through some emotional, historic times. And now, in a few days it will all be over. I am excited, but a little nervous about the future. I will continue to see some of the people I’ve worked with, but it will never really be the same. The only real difference between you and me today, is that I probably have more stuff than you. It happens. You say it won’t, but you accumulate things like toolboxes and photos and pots and pans that you actually like. Hell, I even have a wife. But those are earthbound details. For all intents and purposes, and certainly for the purposes of this premise – I am you. You are me. And we all need a job. So, in this, your final lecture as students at the University of Wisconsin, I intend to share with you everything I know about being on the right path in life. This is a task I take very seriously. I want to make this count. I believe you don’t want bullshit philosophy, though, according to my records, that is what 249 of you are getting degrees in. Now you may say, “How can you give advice that applies to all of us? We are a mass of humanity with a thousand different goals and a thousand different definitions of happiness.” It is true, you are bound only by accident of birth, or geography, and I believe in three cases, recruiting class. So what? The last thing you need to hear right now is kitchen wisdom passed off as sage advice. Do you really need someone to tell you to always wear sunscreen? Or to always carry around chapstick? If you’ve made it this far, and are still on the fence about whether chapstick is for you or not – I’m sorry, you are way beyond my help. No. I came here to tell you about the big stuff. The gut-check moments. What matters most. Graduates, I am here to tell you when you get to the fork in the road, always go left. Don’t ask why. Just do it. And if two roads do diverge in a yellow wood – take the path most traveled by. Chances are, it’s most traveled for a reason…like, because it’s awesome. And while we are on the subject of roads, it may not rise to meet you. If that happens, go meet it. No one I have ever met has ever gotten anywhere waiting for a road. So, how will you know, now that you are leaving academia’s protective embrace, whether you are on the right or wrong track in life? Here’s what I’ve learned – sometimes the hard way. You are on the wrong track in life, if, before heading out for a night with Paris Hilton, you think – “it would take too long for me to put on underwear.” You are also on the wrong track if you are known by name at any of the following places: The local OTB. A pawn shop. That place that buys human hair for money. You are on the wrong track in life if you find yourself in a foreign prison facing charges you don’t quite understand. Yes, you most likely are living a very interesting life, but you might want to consider changing some of your behavior. For example, if you must swallow condoms filled with a foreign substance…how about Jello? You should also know that getting paid to do what you love is not a birthright. Sometimes it’s nice to just have things you love to do. To that end, not all of you should necessarily follow your dreams. For example, if your dreams are ridiculous. That’s what hobbies are for. You may not be able to become a billionaire by age 30, but you certainly can collect coins. Or, if you lack even the motivation for that, what about buying a coffee table book about coin collecting? Surely you can do that. My point is: Get a coffee table. They come in handy. Oh, and you are definitely on the wrong track in life if your nickname is “The Widowmaker.” And you are without question on the wrong track in life if “reality show contestant” is on your list of goals for 2007. In fact you’re not on the wrong track, you are on an express train to Sad Town, making stops in Depressionville and Oh-My-God, What-Have-I-Donesylvania. Now that is everything you need to know about the wrong track. In the spirit of affirmation that is commencement, it is equally, if not more important, for you to know how to tell if you are on the right track in life. This is comparatively simple. You are on the right track in life if you are unaware of the time going by. That is all. If you look up from your evening’s reverie and find the sun lifting over the horizon; or you turn around and discover you are 80 years old and asking, “My God, where did the time go?” Chances are it was time not wasted. I have never been able to answer the question, “Where do I see myself in five years?” Because I don’t. I see myself now, like you, excited, a little anxious, wondering if I will be able to do all that I want in this world, ready to try, ready to fail, ready to live. Graduates, I’d like to close with my words – since I think it’s cheap to get out on someone else’s good idea. What I’d like to say to you is this: “Sweet Home, Alabama. Where the skies are so blue.” Wait a second, those aren’t my words. Congratulations. You’ve done a wonderful thing. And I salute you.

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