The Graduation Speech Your Kids Really, Really Need to Hear

Cliff Ennico
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Posted: Jun 16, 2015 12:01 PM
The Graduation Speech Your Kids Really, Really Need to Hear
This column, which originally appeared in May 2009, is one of the most requested and reprinted "Succeeding in Your Business" columns, especially during graduation season.

Members of the Class of 2015:

I was sorry to hear that the reality TV star who was to have been your commencement speaker today had to bow out at the last minute. I was delighted, however, when the Trustees called me an hour ago and asked me to fill in.

Now, I've never done this before, and I wasn't given a whole lot of guidance, except to tell you to "follow your dreams" and "reach for the stars." Apparently there's a federal law requiring those statements to be included in all graduation speeches.

While I know some of you already have jobs and some (OK most of you) do not, I know that all of you are wondering today what your lives are going to be like.

I have two pieces of information for you. They are not fun to talk about, but I feel you need to hear them, and no better time than today. First, whatever dreams you hope to accomplish in your lives, you won't be able to achieve them until you have first achieved financial security for yourself and your loved ones. For most of you, unless you were born wealthy (and sometimes even then), finding and holding onto that financial security will be the primary, if not the only, thing you will spend time on for the next 50 years.

The second thing is that it has never been a more difficult time to make a decent living in America. I'm not just talking about the current recession or the high unemployment rate. I'm talking about some longer-lasting, structural changes in our economy.

For your grandparents, it was easy. You signed up with a large corporation, worked your way up the corporate ladder, and retired at age 65 with a pension, Social Security and a gold watch. You can forget about doing that today.

Years ago, when America dominated the world economy, corporations viewed employees as scarce assets to be cultivated. In today's brutally competitive global economy, they view employees as costs to be reduced or eliminated. If you can buy technology to do the work employees are doing, you buy the computers and fire the employees. If you must hire people to do a job, you hire the cheapest people you can in developing nations.

And if you really must hire Americans, you "outsource" them as independent contractors rather than employees. That way you don't have to pay them benefits. If you work for a large corporation today, odds are you will be unemployed in a few years.

Social Security, Medicare and other government programs that helped your parents and grandparents probably won't be there when you are ready for them, at least not in their current forms.

And if you think you can scale back your expectations and join the blue-collar workforce, there's a massive wave of immigrants from Asia, Africa and Latin America who are only too willing to take these jobs for salaries you won't want to accept.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is only one person you can rely on to help you build your future and success, and that is you. One day, you will find that you are no longer employable, and you will have to build your own career or business. That moment of realization may happen next year; it may not happen until you turn 50. But it will happen someday, so start planning now to take control of your income and your life. You will need to become an entrepreneur, whether you like it or not.

I know all of you want to do good for the world, and that's admirable. But charity requires money, too -- ask the president of this college why he spends so much of his time raising money from alumni/ae.

If you want to do good for the world, start a business. Provide solutions to people's problems they are willing to pay for, and hire people to help you. Succeed, and your business will make the world a better place. Guaranteed. What is more, you will achieve the financial security you need, and whatever money you don't need you can use to make the world an even better place.

I have had the pleasure of working with over 15,000 business owners in my career. They come from all walks of life and backgrounds. The beauty of this wonderful country of ours is that anyone -- I mean anyone -- can succeed in business with the right training, the right outlook on life, and the courage and determination to do what others are too squeamish or hesitant to accomplish.

So by all means reach for the stars and follow your dreams, for without faith, hope and passion you will never succeed, even if you're as smart as Einstein.

Just whatever you do, don't run out of money.