I’m in my first semester of college, so I honestly can’t relate to the graduates or the speakers of these speeches. I haven’t battled my way through four years of college, or been through some of the things the speakers have been. The one thing I do relate to, however, is Stephen Colbert talking about going back in time and giving himself advice. Granted, I’m only eighteen years old. I haven’t been through a long life full of difficult things. But I have had my share of troubles, heartbreak and times when I just didn’t know what do to or who to turn to. Even though I don’t have all the wisdom and experience now that I’ll have later in my adult life, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to tell the sixteen year old version of myself that sometimes crap happens, but life will go on. You’ll survive.
The speech by Stephen Colbert was by far my favorite. He’s just a funny guy. His speech honestly had me laughing out loud. (When he was younger, “If you wanted to send someone a picture of your privates, you had to fax it. That’s how Kinko’s got its name.” Funny, funny.) My favorite thing about the speech is how he can be funny, but still gets his point across. He talked about how when he was younger, he sailed from the Carolinas to Bermuda. However, he took a plane home. The journey there was rough, but it was so easy coming back. He said that’s how he felt giving that speech to the graduating class of Northwestern University. He struggled and fought his way through college, but here he is. That’s actually pretty good advice. He also made me feel better, because I’m considering changing my major and my career path. I’m in the middle of struggling and making up my mind. He made the comment “If we all stuck with our first dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses.” My first dream was to be a paleontologist, but I’m starting to think that a being a princess would be a more suitable career path for me. But the concept still applies. It’s okay to change your mind.
My second favorite speech was by Conan O’Brien to Dartmouth. Personally, he’s not as funny as Colbert, but that’s okay. He still gave good advice. (But only 28% of Americans have a college degree, according to this. Incorrect statistics bother me.) He’s right, life’s not fair. No matter how cliché it sounds, it’s still true. O’Brien also said he wasn’t going to give his audience clichés, he was going to give them practical advice that they can use in the real world. Now, I’m taking the ramen noodle fact to heart, because that’s the main component of my diet until I can afford my new car. I believe I figured out that you can’t iron a shirt while you’re wearing it when I was in about the first grade. And I’ve never had acne. So here I am, a freshman in college, and I can’t use any of Conan O’Brien’s practical advice. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a common piece of advice, and he’s right. People forget to mention that it almost kills you. You’ll notice that people only say that to make you feel better anyways. Nobody really means it. He also addressed the fact that your dreams may change, and that’s okay. Your path at the beginning of your college experience may not be the same as it is on the day of your graduation, or ten years from then. And it’s all okay. Failures and changing your path makes you unique. So why not embrace your individualism?
My third favorite was J.K. Rowling speaking at the Harvard commencement. Let me just start by saying that I love her accent, but it puts me to sleep. So this was doomed from the get-go. I absolutely love Harry Potter, so her comment about squinting her eyes and pretending it was a Gryffindor reunion was quite hilarious to me. So was the comment about naming the Death Eaters after her friends and gay wizards. She said that when she was younger, she didn’t fear poverty, she just feared failure. That’s exactly how I feel right now. I don’t fear not having a good job because I’ll be poor (obviously I don’t have too much money right now). I fear not having a good job because I want to be successful, make my parents proud, and do something with my life. I want at least one person in the world to remember me as somebody who changed their life. Just one person. I’m driven by a fear of failure more than I’m driven by wanting success. I haven’t decided if I think this is a good or a bad thing. Like Rowling says, “It is impossible to live without failing at some point, unless you live so cautiously that you might not have lived at all.” I don’t want that to be me, and I don’t think that is me. All I want to do is affect the life of one person. I really liked what Rowling said towards the end of her speech. She was absolutely right when she said “We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside of us already.” This power could be our fear of failure, or our motivation to succeed. Who knows?
My least favorite was Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement. Honestly, I didn’t know much about Steve Jobs before his death. I still don’t know too much about him now. I know he was co-founder of Apple. I didn’t know he had anything to do with Pixar. I guess I should stay more involved and read more about that kind of stuff. He didn’t graduate from college and he was adopted. Frankly, all the odds were against him. Apple started with two guys in a garage, but look where it’s ended up. Jobs made the comment that you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you have to do it backwards. I’m sure this is true, and I just haven’t had enough dots yet to worry about connecting them. I guess I’m trusting that I’ll make it to all the dots that I need to and that somehow they’ll all connect to help me in the future.
The farther I get in college and the closer I get to my own graduation, I’m sure I’ll more fully understand what all these speakers are talking about. For now I’m just along for the ride, trying to make it there.