by Andy Capp
The following is a figment of the author’s imagination. It should be stressed that the commencement address contained was never presented, and that any school that might consider the author a good candidate for a commencement speaker, A) hasn’t looked into his permanent record and B) was desperate because even Bill Cosby’s Gardener was booked that weekend.
Congratulations, Class of 1998, you’ve made it! Welcome to the real world. As I look out on the sea of humanity ready to take the world head on, I’m reminded of the Far Side cartoon where the devil is greeting souls at the door with the line, “Welcome to Hell; here’s your accordion!” (sfx: dead silence) Ah, anyway, you’ve been down a long road, and after all your hard work you deserve your reward…a lifetime of hard work.
You are all very lucky. This is a moment I never had. After a less than ambitious three and a half year stab at a speech/theatre major, I realized that my odds were better of spending time in a cardboard box behind the Guthrie Theatre than on its stage. So, I ran away and joined the circus, ah, I mean radio…same difference. You now all have a piece of paper I don’t have, a piece of paper that will assure you a starting wage that’s double my current one. I hate you for that, but I digress.
You’re probably asking yourself, “So why is this guy talking to us, anyway?!?” (Grad yells, “Yeah, where’s Bill Cosby’s Gardener?!”) Good question. It seems that there was some kind of ugly blight that was taking his prize roses. The reason I’m talking, besides the rose thing, is to remind you that you still have a lot to learn, and now you’ll have to be both student and teacher.
I know this, as a nearly 20 year student/self-teacher of the school of hard knocks. The road I chose forced me to learn nearly everything about my profession on my own, and while I adapted what few things I did pick up in college, most of it was new ground, and I was breaking it with a plastic spoon. Thanks to some work and a lot of luck, I’ve been able to have a career, but looking back, I now see the importance of education…and continuing education.
Sorry, it never ends. Unless you don’t want that raise next year, that promotion in five, a management gig in ten, or a business of your own in fifteen or twenty, you’re stuck with it. You must keep learning. Hey, come on now, before you throw one more rotten egg, hear me out! It isn’t that hard and doesn’t take as much time as “real learning,” really!
The first and easiest step to an even higher education is to listen. I realize this will be hard for those of you who have nodded off in the last few minutes, and even harder for those of you who have just picked up your broadcasting degree, but by keeping your ears open and your mouth shut, you’ll learn volumes. The trick is to know what to listen for, and how to apply it. Here’s the lesson plan: Listen for what you like, what you feel is really good work. Decide why you like it and try to add those elements to your own work. Also keep an ear out for work you don’t like, noting the mistakes and avoiding them in your own work. It sounds easy, but it’s a powerful way to leapfrog over the mistakes of others and harness the strength of truly great work, making your own work better. You may be worried that you won’t know what’s good and what’s bad. Don’t. If you listen long enough, the difference will be obvious. Why, just look at your classmates that are snoring right now; they already have it down!
Don’t stop reading. It doesn’t matter if it’s a technical publication in your field or the back of your tube of toothpaste. Words have this amazing power to make everything they touch bigger. Your thoughts, your imagination, your potential, your ideas, your goals, all become larger the more words you feed yourself. Obviously, there are certain words that are targeted more to where you want to be, and some great writings should really be a part of your lifetime diet, but remember that all the words you read have some value. As in nutrition, a well-balanced meal of all types of reading will result in healthy growth.
Another important way to continue your education is to practice your craft. This doesn’t mean that you just show up and do the job every day. That’s important for keeping the job you have, but doesn’t move you towards the next big thing. You need to do a little more each day, learn new gear, find new information, practice and re-practice the moves of your craft. Only by extra effort will growth happen, and even a small amount of extra practice each day will take you miles toward where you want to be. Think of it as extra credit. I speak from experience here. For example, if I had really continued to work at my public speaking skills, many of you wouldn’t be walking out the door right now….
Before you rush off, please let me clue you in on one of the best learning tools I know, teaching. Some of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned have come from sharing what I know. The exciting thing about teaching is that each person will interpret the same piece of information just a little differently, using their own unique mental filters, made up of their own unique experiences and knowledge. The result can be a whole new direction of thought, all new information. The teacher, if open to it, can become the student. There are many ways to teach without giving up that 50k radio Production Director job (sfx: howls of laughter). Join Junior Achievement and speak to students. Teach a night class on your field of expertise at the local community college or tech school, or just take a newcomer at your job under your wing and show them the ropes. It’s human nature to keep everything you know to yourself, to hoard it as if it gives you some extra edge and power. The truth is that sharing the wealth is a sign of self-confidence and leadership, qualities that can only move you onward and upward.
In closing, I’d like to remind you of two things. First, you have a choice. Whether you think of today as an ending, as a time to join the ranks of the working class forever, or as a beginning to an exciting journey, with new possibilities every day…you are right. Second, my tip jar is at the exit.