I remember thinking when I was giving this speech last year, that it was the wildest time you could ever give a commencement address. I figured things could not get crazier than they had been for those months leading up to graduation, and that the rest of the year was going to be something more normal. Something weird but comprehensible.
It’s hilarious how wrong I am, all the time.
This past year has thrown us a lot of possible topics that could easily fit in about 10 quality graduation addresses.
What do we think, should we do it?
We could discuss dignity!
Anyone feel like hearing my thoughts on the recent presidential election?
How about we try to unpack the conflict between Israel and Palestine?
I think instead I should just keep it simple and cheesy. After all that you have been through this year, I figure it’s the least I could do. I'll give you one, short piece of advice that will help you navigate future 2020s in your life while at the same time, let you properly enjoy the torrential amount of good times you are about to have.
Give in and be yourself. Nothing more nothing less.
Yourself is who you’re stuck with. But it’s fine because yourself likes the same TV shows you do, and more importantly, yourself knows you and can guide you in the best way possible.
So many of my regrets during the stage of life you’re about to enter involve me acting like someone else. A famous person, a popular friend of mine or in the dorkiest example a character from a book I really liked.
When I was thinking too much about not being myself is when the regrets happened. Embarrassing encounters mostly with me trying to act cool and instead, coming off as the exact opposite.
So instead of all that confusion based on nonsense insecurities, instead, just give in, take a deep breath, and be yourself. And if you're worried that being yourself means you are different from the norm or maybe that by being yourself you won’t be able to meet someone else's expectations? Don’t hesitate to lean into that feeling. It’s frightening but incredibly worthwhile. Plus there are few places as accepting as a college campus so if there was ever a time to lean into your true self, the next four years are a perfect place for that.
Before I go on, I know that the whole “be yourself” thing sounds easy coming from a straight white man from California, and you are right. Some of my biggest problems involve whether or not I should wear jeans or a tracksuit to work. But really, the best truths are broad and universal, and besides, following this idea led me here, in front of you, which makes me incredibly proud.
One of the best things about my job is getting the chance to know so many kids of a graduating class, and honestly, this group is incredibly special. They lean into being themselves, which makes them so fun to be around.
They create music during passing periods, reconstructing every part of a Tame Impala song because they felt like trying it.
They commit to competitions like Assassin. More than any class I have seen here at Country Day, this group is willing to lose sleep, spend hours planning an attack, while also pulling complex psychological mind games in order to commit fake homicide for the game.
Most importantly, these seniors also have the tenacity to show up day in and day out through a worldwide pandemic, mask on, dealing with danceless proms, shifted sports seasons, and frustrated teachers struggling to remember to share their screen on Zoom. That was me, by the way, just about every class until one of these grads yelled at me.
Although the world right now doesn’t make it easy, there is no need to worry about the future of these grads as much as attempt to contain our anticipation, because this group of students will leave a mark and I’m excited for them to come back and share it with us.
So looking forward, if yourself becomes a doctor who drives a Tesla that drives itself so that you can think about how awesome your life is instead of having to think about driving, that’s fantastic, and I am really happy for you.
Just as long as you come back as yourself. Your favorite movie better still be Jurassic Park and not some arthouse nonsense. You had better still question everything, no matter what, don't stop in your search for some truth. And most of all, you had better still be interested and amazed by the possibilities this world has instead of being a boring cynic.
Come back as your weird, beautiful and true self, because that person is someone I want to know.