My commencement address to graduating seniors

65 thoughts on “My commencement address to graduating seniors”

  1. Not the sugar coated speeches they usually hear. 🙂 Nicely done, you may not be invited back, but you just gave these seniors a whole lot to think about. That’s the key we need to expose them to this line of thinking and not just have them fall in line to the way things use to be. What they do with it is up to them, but at least they have the option.

    1. Thanks Brian. There is a LOT of opportunity out there these days, and those who are confident enough to grab those opportunities will always be better positioned to accomplish their goals, especially if that goal is early retirement! 🙂

  2. This is an exciting post! Let me try *ahem*
    I would tell a graduating class not to drink the Kool-Aid, to question EVERYTHING, and to start saving for retirement with their very first check, because if they do it right, retirement could be as close as 10 years. I would close with saying that the most important things in their lives will be their relationships with other people, not their job, or their salary, or the STUFF they buy. In the end, our thoughts are consumed with the people in our lives. A j.o.b. Is just a means to an end. That doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable – it just doesn’t need to define you.
    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    1. Perfect! A job is a means to an end, while the relationships that we maintain with others do tend to provide us with profound happiness and satisfaction. If only I had realized and embraced that back when I graduated from college! 🙂

  3. I like the way that started off, bucking conventional wisdom, but if society isn’t paying your mortgage than you better get a job that will pay it. I hear you though, life is precious and you need to enjoy it. But not many people are going to part with their jobs (or after graduating college say forget about that degree) and go live off the lamb. My advice is to find people you enjoy working with. Make and save as much as you can and quite as soon as you can. Life is what you make it!

    1. It’s true, life is exactly what you make it – for better or worse. People have a lot more control over their lives than they realize or care to admit…or even WANT!

  4. Amen! Couldn’t agree more that new grads need to hear that they’re nothing special in the job market, and that their employers will not care about them. Sounds so heartless, but it’s harder to learn that the hard way.

    1. Thanks Kalie. It does sound heartless, but unfortunately, it’s reality. Businesses are here to make money, not provide jobs. That’s a very important distinction.

  5. This is great! I wish I heard this when I was graduating. Luckily I figured out not to drink the Kool-Aid until 65, but not everyone will. That’s okay, but it would have been nice to know earlier that I didn’t have to.

  6. ” Your degree does not entitle you to a good job or early retirement, a nice boss, dependable friends or short commute.”

    This is all great stuff, and I think people in their 30s would still benefit from most of it – but that line above is my favorite, I thought a degree = great job, and my degree has NOTHING to do with success.

    1. Thanks Maggie, appreciate it. The entitlement society is one of those pet peeves of mine. People don’t owe us anything. We owe it to OURSELVES to work smart and make decisions that actually benefit our future selves. 🙂

  7. Nice one! I’d think my commencement speech would be similar. Epecially the “you’re not special – and you’re not entitled to everything without working for it” parts.

    I get so annoyed by people that just want and aren’t willing to work for it. Good speech!

  8. Terrific advice Steve, whether for a new graduate or someone later in life who has finally realized that they are not defined by their job. We all have a purpose that transcends what we do for a living. Unleashing that purpose should be our foremost goal. In the meantime becoming financially secure is key to gaining the freedom to make purpose driven choices.

  9. “Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called Life. Electric word Life. It means forever and that’s a mighty long time.”

    I’m still working out the rest, but I envision a line about a shrink in Beverly Hills and something about a purple banana.


  10. Hilarious, memorable, and true! If more people shared this kind of message today, our current entitlement culture would be a distant memory a decade from now.

    I don’t think I would change much if I were giving this kind of address, unless I were addressing high school seniors rather than college seniors. In this case, I would tell many of the students not to go to college just because they think it is a ticket to a job in 4-5 years. For most kids, all a degree guarantees is a slip of paper to put on the wall and a student loan to be paid. The rest is based on seeking and seizing opportunities, as you said.

    1. Thanks FinanceSuperhero. I completely agree, the “everybody gets a trophy” mentality I’m afraid is setting up our nation’s youngsters for a very rude awakening once they get out into the real world. It’s not doing them any favors.

  11. Nice speech! I never did well with people telling me just to do work for the money. I think that is why I want out of the rat race now, so that I can contribute in any way I feel fit. I certainly do derive a great deal of satisfaction from dictating my own agenda

    1. Amen to that, Jolly Ledger. The ability and freedom to dictate your own schedule and what you do with your time is tough to compare to just about anything. Soon, we’ll both have it!

  12. Great points.

    You should also mention to stay in contact with as many of your classmates as you can. Nothing can help your career more than having a strong network of well-connected friends (even better if you happen to have graduated from an Ivy League school).

    Look up Richard Rainwater. He spoke to my business school class many years ago. His college roommate Sid Bass hired him to manage his family’s fortune. After losing the initial $5 million they gave him, he was able to right the ship and grow the Bass family fortune into $5 billion, making quite a bit for himself along the way.

    1. Good call, thanks Financial Slacker. Building a solid network is absolutely a critical component of success – though not necessarily *required* I suppose, it does help a lot. It’s all about opportunities.

    2. I second the importance of networking. My family & several professors talked about it. I chose to be naive when I graduated college & thought merit alone would take you far.

      You have to be able to do a job competently too, but it’s who you know that get’s you an interview for the “good” jobs. It took me about 3 or 4 years in corporate to finally realize this.

  13. “Fifty-year careers only exist for people […] who fail to manage their finances and lifestyle appropriately”

    Powerful. I’ll reuse this one to some of my friends who don’t see the point of saving. Showing it to them from the aspect of “you failed at the game” is a completely new approach to me. It’s turning the whole “Early retirees are kind freaks” thing into the opposite. “How could you fail so much at finance basics, that despite your insane salary you’ll only be able to retire at 65???”

    1. I think that’s exactly it. Maybe it’s not the early retirees who are acting all that abnormal or “freakish” after all. Maybe it’s the rest who blow through huge salaries…just because they have them. To me, that’s pretty darn insane.

  14. My speech in a nutshell?

    “You know nothing. In fact, you know so little, you don’t even know how little you know. Find someone living the life you want to live, better yet, several someones, and study them until you learn how to follow in your footsteps. If you’re lucky, get one of them to mentor you and help you along the way.”

    1. Nice, Jack! That one’s awesomely to the point. Finding a successful mentor is a wonderful advantage, no doubt about that. Better than money, for sure.

  15. I think this is pretty much perfect. The only things that I would add is (1) something about the fact that buying material possessions is not going to make you happy and (2) stop worrying so much about what others think about you – everyone seems so obsessed with portraying the “American Dream” for family and friends on Facebook, but it’s not real. Most people can get a car loan for a fancy new vehicle and take out a mortgage on a too-big house. Focus on what makes you happy, not what you think everyone else wants to see.

    1. Thanks Harmony. Yeah, being confident in yourself and not carrying so much about what other people think of you is a big one. It keeps people buying things that they don’t need and always focused on impressing *OTHERS*, rather than just doing what is truly in our best interest. Self-deprecating lifestyle.

  16. Not far off of David Foster Wallace’s commencement address to Kenyon University:

    “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race”-the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.”

    1. Thanks for the link. 🙂

      I love how he put it. “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”


  17. This is a solid graduation speech, and nothing like the one I got at my graduation (though I did really enjoy the speaker). I wish the first part was stressed more often about not making your life about your job. There are definitely careers where your passion can be your job, but for most people in a standard “office job” it will not end up like that. Would love to see a culture shift towards living your life instead of living your job. There are some companies out there doing that now, but not nearly enough it seems.

  18. I love this. This is reflective of one of my favorite commencement speeches from a nearby town from a couple of years back
    This is absolutely what we SHOULD be telling grads. This is the reality. Status quo is a joke. It’s perception. It’s alternate reality. I am surrounded by families with money and they are NOT happy. They are complaining non stop. They are gone all week on work trips to keep kids in vacations and ‘stuff’ and camps and programs to occupy their time because their parents are ‘busy’ with work. Children growing up thinking work is and will always be a higher priority. Sad. But avoidable with the ability to ‘understand ourselves’ and really get down to what we want out of life. Love this!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Amanda. You’re spot on, the status quo really is a joke, at least for many of us. It’s funny how it works, too – the more money people have, the PROBLEMS they tend to experience. Like you said, complaining, the stuff the…everything! 🙂

  19. Good stuff! It would certainly be new news to 99.9% of the graduates today — and words they need to hear.

    Whether or not they would take those words to heart is a different matter…

    1. Thanks ESI – you’re right, I’m sure most will just let those words fly into one side of their heads and out of the other. But hey, we can only do so much. We can lead a horse to water, but we definitely can’t make that horse drink! 🙂

  20. This is so good. Question everything. While most people go with the flow, there tend to be 4 or 5 different ways to get to the same place. Look at all the options and pick what is best for yourself. Just because no one else is doing it, doesn’t mean it is a bad plan. We made so many choices that we different than our peers, and surprise-surprise we ended up in a different place! Now we are taking a year off, paid cash for a house, and own rentals that provide a solid passive income.

    1. Thanks Ms. Montana! Exactly, don’t take things on face value and just assume that they are appropriate for your life. Some things might be, but other things probably aren’t. Congrats on your awesome accomplishment as well. Paying cash for your house (as we just did for our Airstream) gives you a HUGE leg up in acquiring some serious super duper wealth! 🙂

  21. “If you are no longer a viable money-maker to your company, you’re out on your ass finding another job regardless of how hard you work.”
    Wished I had know this applied for all companies not just big bureaucratic businesses. Had a bunch of layoffs at my company the last few weeks so this quote really resonates with me. Saw guys get laid off who had been there 10+ years and worked nights/weekends. But they were still let go because they were “stagnant in their career growth.” No one cared that they didn’t want to be managers and just wanted to write good code, HR was told that they had to cut costs and these employees fit into the formula.

    1. Hi Kraken – appreciate the comment. It’s so true, a business will always do what is in their best interest first, and we employees definitely need to be doing the same thing. A business is a business. It’s always a good practice to do the best work that you can, but living your job may very well end up as the DEATH of your career.

  22. My commencement speech would be short. “Grow in empathy. For yourself and others. It’s the best type of growth and WILL impact your financial and career decisions.”

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