My commencement address to graduating seniors

Published April 25, 2016   Posted in Having some fun

I am pulling no punches in today’s post – if I’m ever asked to give the commencement address to a class of graduating seniors (Ha! Yeah, right…), this is what I would say…though after posting this, I’m sure that I will never be asked!

My honest commencement addressA challenge to other bloggers: What commencement address would you give? Care to post your version?

Okay, here we go!

My commencement address

You might be the luckiest graduating class in the history of America.  Opportunities abound.  Your futures are bright.  Over the past four years, each of you have worked (and drank) your way to academic success, and here today you sit on the precipice of a new venture.  The next stage of your life is about to begin. 

I have one powerful piece of advice for each and every one of you.  Reject conventional wisdom. It’s nonsense. Conventional wisdom is what keeps you working nonsense jobs to pay for nonsense items that don’t make you happy. 

Don’t follow the leader.  Instead, be the leader.  Be the one that others look up to.  Sharpen your teeth on the edges of what is possible in this country.  Make whatever happens in your lives a result of your willing and informed choice, not a byproduct of a lifetime of normalcy; of mediocrity; of nonsense. 

Reject the notion that your jobs define you.  Your work pays the bills, but within each of us lies a much deeper emotional component that makes us all who we truly are.  At most, college prepared you to perform a trade in exchange for compensation.  But our trades should not limit us.  They should not control our livelihoods. Get a job and become a productive member of society. 

But remember that your job doesn’t give a whit about you; it doesn’t care about your upbringing or what you’ve been through. It doesn’t care how much you try or love coming to work. Because in the end, your position is nothing more than a source of money to the organization. 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. Contrary to the culture that you were probably brought up in, we don’t give trophies for participating. This isn’t little league baseball. Produce or find yourself picking up garbage for a living.

In the end, it doesn’t pay to “live your job”. Just like conventional wisdom, living your job is nonsense. It means countless hours, days, months and years are removed from your future, years that could have been spent exploring, producing or cultivating mind-blowing advancements in society. It’s okay to like your job, but never let it consume your life.

The fact is the large majority of us who sit behind desks staring blankly into a computer monitor aren’t cultivating much beyond a deep yawning chasm in the seat of their chair.

Once released into the wild, the decision is entirely yours regarding how you will lead your life, make and maintain friendships, pursue happiness. Those who understand what true happiness means to them are better prepared to avoid the nonsense of life that every follower of conventional wisdom trudges through, endlessly searching for the escape but also diving straight back into the pile.

Thank you for that lashing. May I have another?

Understand this: None of you are special. You’re all on the same playing field competing to make the most money or find the best job. You all have college degrees, which prepares you only to complete the job application process. The rest is entirely up to you. Your degree does not entitle you to a good job or early retirement, a nice boss, dependable friends or short commute.

Society doesn’t owe you fortune or fame, either. It isn’t responsible for supporting you, paying your mortgage or buying your groceries. Society doesn’t work for you. You work for it, and the greater impact that you have on society, the more likely your name will be recorded in a history book rather than atop a hastily carved tombstone.

Resist the temptation to allow your lifestyle to inflate as you earn greater and greater amounts of money. The more money you spend, the more you’ll have to make just to get by, and the further off retirement will stay. Many believe that this year’s college graduates have 50 or more years of work to look forward to, building careers and kissing ass in the never-ending pursuit of money, power or fame.

But I tell you this – it doesn’t have to be that way. Fifty-year careers only exist for people who actually want them, who fail to manage their finances and lifestyle appropriately, who let their egos and superficial desires – honed and exploited by cleverly evil marketing geniuses – get the better of them.

Do you want to work the rest of your life or enjoy your time on this planet? If you choose work, then conventional wisdom is your game. Otherwise, don’t allow the nonsense of life to destroy your ambitions or postpone your goals.

After all, we only live once, and life is short. Work hard, but play harder.

What makes the difference is YOU. Be comfortable and confident in yourself, but understand your weaknesses and be willing to change. Remaining steadfast in your drive towards mediocrity in this world can only lead to a successful completion of that goal. Instead, open your eyes. Breath in the air. Take stock of your life at every turn and re-evaluate your options.

Because the better that we understand ourselves, the more prepared we are to design a life that we can be proud of in the end, bucket-list complete.

Thank you.

We track our net worth using Personal Capital


65 responses to “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.

    • Steve says:

      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

    • Steve says:

      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!

    • Steve says:

      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.

    • Steve says:

      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. Nice commencement address – My son is graduating from high school this year and I will share it with him!

  7. Apathy Ends says:

    ” 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.

  8. **Applause, applause, applause** And the crowd goes wild! Parents start yelling: “Yes! Our kids AREN’T SPECIAL and they need to HEAR THAT!” 🙂 In all reality, I love it.

    • Steve says:

      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. 🙂

  9. Mr. SSC says:

    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!

  10. Carl Pascale says:

    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.

  11. “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.


  12. J. Money says:


    You’re hired for next year’s class of Financial University… Otherwise known as F.U. 🙂

  13. 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.

    • Steve says:

      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.

  14. 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

    • Steve says:

      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!

  15. 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.

    • Steve says:

      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.

    • Josh says:

      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.

  16. Stockbeard says:

    “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???”

    • Steve says:

      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.

  17. Jack says:

    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.”

    • Steve says:

      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.

  18. 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.

    • Steve says:

      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.

  19. Mike Doby says:

    I wish I heard this speech at my high school graduation. AWESOME !!!

  20. mosprott says:

    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.”

    • Steve says:

      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.”


  21. Debt Hater says:

    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.

  22. Amanda says:

    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!

  23. Kurt says:

    I’m age 59, and I still found this inspiring and motivating! 🙂 Wish I’d heard it at age 21. Thanks for sharing.

  24. ESI says:

    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…

    • Steve says:

      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! 🙂

  25. Ms. Montana says:

    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.

    • Steve says:

      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! 🙂

  26. “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.

    • Steve says:

      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.

  27. […] 2. My Commencement Address to Graduating Seniors — Think Save Retire “Fifty-year careers only exist for people who actually want them, who fail to manage their finances and lifestyle appropriately, who let their egos and superficial desires – honed and exploited by cleverly evil marketing geniuses – get the better of them. Do you want to work the rest of your life or enjoy your time on this planet?” […]

  28. ZJ Thorne says:

    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.”

  29. […] week is high school graduation week up here in Anchorage, so I decided to take Steve’s (Think Save Retire) challenge to write a commencement address to college graduates. And now, we will hear from Maggie Banks […]

  30. Lake Girl says:

    Well said! I will have to give some thought to what I would tell the graduating class!

  31. […] was inspired to write this after reading Think. Save. Retire’s piece on college commencement. There is one big thing I would tell to people graduating university […]

  32. […] Here’s the most awesome commencement address you’ll never hear. But you can read it at ThinkSaveRetire, an excellent blog geared toward those aiming for early retirement. The guy who runs the place—Steve—is shooting to retire at age 35! “My Commencement Address to Graduating Seniors“. […]

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