Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Best/Worst Graduation Speech I've Ever Heard

You know it's graduation season when your social media feeds are inundated with videos/text from various graduation speeches. A number of well-off engineers I know shared this particular speech, which resulted in strong, conflicting mixed reactions on my part. I haven't felt this uncomfortable reading something since the Any Chua Wall Street Journal article.

Here's a copy of the "speech" here: Dear graduates: Don’t follow your dreams (A commencement speech for the mediocre) 
 
I can't decide if this is the best or most arrogant commencement speech I have ever read. Basically, author Tim Donovan states that people should err on the safe side when making career decisions and not pursue non-financially lucrative dreams because they will most likely not succeed. In his opinion, it's better to live a stable life than risk failure, and that passions should be relegated to hobby status.

To a certain level, I can understand where Mr. Donovan is coming from. On one hand, not everyone can succeed as an artist, musician, writer, [insert humanities field here]. The author himself worked as a waiter for many years before making it big. Even fields in the social sciences (such as social work) don't always provide livable incomes. Safe degrees in fields like computer science, engineering, medicine, and business generally guarantee enough disposable income for people to pay their bills and live comfortable lives. On the other hand, I find it ironic that a humanities major who ultimately became successful by following his dreams is telling the rest of us to simply take the safe route.

Tim Donovan targets the general student population in his "speech" - the mediocre. A question I can't help by ask is this: Who are the true mediocre in this situation? Is it people who play it safe and potentially live mundane yet stable lives, or those who risk their financial security in hopes of doing something great or achieving their dreams? While some of the biggest risk takers I know could have higher incomes and larger nest eggs, these individuals are the ones who seem to be having the most adventure, seeing the world, and making the most out of life.

On a personal note, I'm someone who tried to balance dreams (studying music) with stability (a college counseling job) but ultimately erred on the side of practicality (a job in the medical sector). My job is fine, but I regularly wonder if I'd be happier if I pursued something even less financially pragmatic than social work. Maybe I'll get that music degree someday (to the horror of my family/friends), but for now I'll be part of the mediocre.

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