A Commencement Speech from a Fellow Student


“If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.”

I’m pretty sure I saw it on the Abraham Lincoln parody Twitter account… or was it the Tupac one? Anyway, that saying and many other cheesy phrases are always thrown out around graduation time. Commencement speeches always talk about reaching for the stars, realizing your potential, and grabbing the metaphorical bull by the horns. I mean, it does make sense. They could give a speech about how half the graduates in the audience won’t land a job that utilizes their degree and will probably move in with their parents again, but that doesn’t do much for morale.

So they stick to the cliché topics about aspirations and how to be successful in a competitive marketplace. As cheesy as they are, I actually love listening to commencement speeches. Universities seek out people who have been exceptionally successful in their field and ask them to address the future generation that is about to embark on the scariest part of their lives. I’m sure speakers spend a long time deciding what they want to say to these young people and how exactly to say it. There is a lot of pressure to perform well, but the students are generally pretty receptive to anything since they are so excited to never take a midterm again. I am the perfect example; my commencement speaker made no sense whatsoever and spent more time talking about his list of achievements than actually addressing us. It was like he was reading his resume except it took an hour and he didn’t skip over the boring parts. But we all cheered and give him a standing ovation when he was finished because, as I said before, no more midterms is exciting.

The older I get, the more I appreciate hearing advice from others. I try to soak up knowledge from anyone and everyone who is more experienced than me. Part of the reason behind that is because students today are highly pressured to know exactly what they want to do in life. The question that always follows “What are you studying?” is “What do you plan to do with that degree?” I have always felt like I had to know the exact field and type of job I wanted by the time I graduated. Not being 100% sure made me feel panicky, as if I was falling behind. Then, I realized at graduation that no one else knew what the hell they were doing either. We were all asking each other about our future plans hoping to discover that other people are just as lost as us.

Coming into graduate school I realized that most people have no clue what their future plans are. Careers are rarely a linear path. Every professor and professional I have come across has told me they worked in many different fields before finding their passion. These people, who are extremely successful, did not start working in the industry they exceled in until they were thirty or older. They don’t usually mention that in commencement speeches, but it sure would help take the pressure off. Forcing students to pick their careers at such a young age can actually impede them from finding their dream jobs. Graduates are so pressured to find something to do that they often settle for a job that makes their family and friends happy, but not them. Maybe if they knew that jumping around from company to company is normal, that most people don’t start in the field they will end up in, and that it might not happen until you are in your thirties, they might dream a little bigger. Having a sucky job after graduation doesn’t mean you will always have a sucky job. Just because it doesn’t happen in a year doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen. You have to give yourself room to explore in order to find what you are truly good at and passionate about. All you can do is go out and try things. The worst that can happen is you will fail, but isn’t that better than never trying at all? Just remember, as Twitter Tupac said, if your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.


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