We are in the last days of the season for commencement speeches, the annual rite in which famous and successful people urge graduating students to follow their hearts, live their dreams, change the world, hug everyone, floss daily, be nice to kitty-cats and, oops, sorry we went and broke the global economy just as you were preparing to look for work. Enjoy destitution!
The truth is that graduates don’t need to be bombarded with well-meaning but dubious expressions of optimism: that’s what wedding vows are for. What they need is practical advice they can actually use in their lives—real wisdom based on real experience, preferably stated by those who know the taste of disappointment. (Note: the “taste of disappointment” can be acquired through one’s own personal failures or by licking the poster for the movie Wolverine.)
Take Kim Jong Il, for instance. An unorthodox choice as commencement speaker? Sure. But really, who’s more qualified to extol the virtues of perseverance? Here’s a guy whose dreams literally crashed into the sea and detonated in a feeble puff of weapons-grade futility. But did that stop him from perpetuating national famine, strife and authoritarian menace in his pursuit of the means for inflicting upon the earth a raging nuclear hellfire? Not a chance. If Hollywood executives had that kind of resolve and determination, we’d have four or five terrible Hulk movies by now, instead of just the two.
Here at home, I can’t imagine Brian Mulroney received too many invitations to speak this spring, and even fewer that met his minimum gratuity. But think of all he’d have to offer. The former prime minister could talk about the hazards of hubris and the perils of demanding a public inquiry into yourself. He could talk about all that, but being Mulroney he’d probably speak on the topic of “Can Anyone Here Break a $1,000 Bill?”
Or what about the current occupant of 24 Sussex Drive? Stephen Harper has experienced his share of dismay and defeat, and that’s just with a hairbrush. The man has wisdom to impart. Of course, the Prime Minister is busy managing the recession we can’t be having right now because we didn’t already have it before, so I took the liberty of writing the uplifting conclusion to his commencement address:
“Graduates, as you look to the future, I urge you to remember that no matter the scope of the problems you face, no matter the magnitude of the challenges you confront, there is always a way to triumph. Stand tall and remember: courage, honesty, integrity—these are for wusses. A much better solution is negative advertising.
“Over the years, I’ve found that my own chronic shortcomings are best addressed not by personal improvement or sacrifice, both of which can be a real pain, but by emphasizing or even inventing the flaws of others.
“The best thing about this approach of mine, refined over many years of being picked last for sports, is that it doesn’t work only in politics. Deriding a rival as an effete weakling, Taliban sympathizer or child pornographer is fun and effective in most aspects of life, including proms.
“Let’s say you’re up for a promotion at work. It’s down to you and one other guy. And that guy—we’ll call him Ron Jenkins—is using all sorts of unfair tactics to get the job, like having skills and a personality. All it takes to even the odds is a video camera, a little creativity and a soul as black as night.”
[Sinister, Jaws-type music over black-and-white images of Ron Jenkins chasing adorable children off his lawn, possibly while holding a rake.]
Deep, ominous voice-over:
Ron Jenkins. He’s been at our company for 12 years.
He’s had the same job for 12 years.
You know who else worked in the same job for 12 years?
It makes you wonder: what else does Ron Jenkins have in common with history’s greatest monster?
And where does Ron Jenkins go when he leaves the office? Does he go home to his family? Or does he go . . . somewhere else?
[Artist’s depiction of Ron Jenkins having apple martinis with Al Capone, Pol Pot and Dr. Octopus.]
Ron Jenkins says he’s a company man.
But every summer, he doesn’t come into work for two whole weeks—while still accepting a paycheque! That’s just like stealing, except in the legal sense.
[Image of the earth exploding.]
Plus, Ron Jenkins might theoretically hate puppy dogs.
[Image of a puppy dog exploding.]
Ron Jenkins—he’s not in it for our company. He’s in it for himself.
“Graduates, as you head out into the world, I urge you to never forget the only piece of wisdom that truly matters: if you don’t have anything nice to say, you’re on the right track.”