Lately there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth about this year's crop of college graduates and the tough time they will have finding decent jobs. Yet the commencement speeches today's graduates hear at their ceremonies don't talk about any of that. Instead they are being told to "follow their stars," "make the world a better place," and so forth.
Which, of course, is totally safe; I get it. Nobody wants a commencement speech that's a total downer.
But I do wish today's graduates were getting a dose of reality and solid advice along with the platitudes. Here's the speech I would love to give if given the opportunity:
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted at the opportunity to address the graduating class of [name of college], though I am sorry the reality TV star who was supposed to be here canceled at the last minute for a better opportunity.
It is customary for commencement speakers to inspire you, make you laugh, reminisce about the great times you had here, and challenge you to follow your dreams and make the world a better place.
But here's an inconvenient truth: before you can realize your dreams, you are all going to have to figure out a way to make a living and support yourself, maybe a spouse and children, and maybe your aging Baby Boomer parents who never saved anything for retirement or nursing home bills. I don't have to tell you that it has never been harder in America to do that.
It gets worse. Many of you here are woefully unprepared for the real world of work. You have crammed your heads full of information, among other controlled substances, and the best among you have learned some important lessons about meeting deadlines, thinking critically, performing research, and arguing positions. Those are all very important skills.
But they won't get you a job, much less launch you on a career.
What you need in today's world of work are marketable skills. Sadly, your academic program didn't help you develop those -- you are educated, but you are unskilled labor. And hardly anybody will pay you for the stuff you did learn here.
So here is some practical advice on surviving in the real world. Ignore it if you wish as the ranting of an out-of-touch Baby Boomer, but those of you who listen will profit from it.
First, if you don't already have a job, get out there and get working. Take whatever is available, whether it makes use of your degree or not. Get a job that pays as much as possible, then get another one to fill your time on evenings and weekends. Unpaid internships are for losers (and rich kids). If an internship won't lead to a paying job in six to 12 months, you're better off waiting tables.