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The Commencement Speech Nobody Will Hear

Posted on Sunday, May 5, 2024
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by David P. Deavel
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It’s that time of year! If their ceremonies haven’t been canceled, as USC’s were, due to violent protests against Israel, Jews, the U.S., Western Civilization, or whatever, students around the country are walking across stages in gowns and little mortar-board hats to receive diplomas from overpaid administrators who have not yet been caught plagiarizing their academic work. Before the graduates do so, however, they must listen to a commencement speaker, who is probably a celebrity or a leftist. (But I repeat myself.)

I know that some of your children and grandchildren probably have sat or will sit through a commencement speech urging them to embrace one or more of the following:

End the War in Gaza!

Keep the War Going in Ukraine!

Make War Against the Patriarchy!

 Let the Patriarchy Win If They Identify as Women!

End Racism!

Hold [insert current enemy—white people, Jews, Asians] Accountable!

Please Donate to the Annual Fund Because Our Alums Inexplicably Are Not Giving Much After These Riots!

You might be annoyed about this, but you can take comfort (and also a bit of despair) from the fact that your children and grandchildren are not listening anyway since they are scrolling through their phones during this part.

Being neither a celebrity or a leftist (still repeating myself—sorry, my kids complain about this, too), I have not been invited to give a speech this year at a major or even minor university or college. But I do have a short speech prepared, which I will now share with you, the readers. While the commencement speaker your offspring is currently ignoring (by watching Instagram Reels of school fights) advocates that we all Embrace Diversity and Think Exactly Alike!, please text said offspring this speech and tell them to read it instead.

Heck, if you get invited to speak at the last minute, why don’t you give this one?

Be Ordinary and Be Extraordinary!

Class of 2024, some of you are smart. Some of you are not. Some of you are handsome and attractive. Some of you have nice personalities…I’m sure. Some of you took advantage of the last 4, 5, or 6 years to begin the real process of getting an education and forming a view of the world. Some of you spent your time partying, going to sporting events, or, less reputably, involving yourselves in protests about parts of the world about which you know very little.

            Well, graduates, to answer the riddle posed by a former Secretary of State and inevitable presidential candidate—“What difference at this point does it make?”—it makes a big difference. You can’t do anything you want to! You can’t be anything you want to be! Yes, America is a land of second chances, and I wish you all the best in whatever second chances you get. But if you didn’t use your time wisely, there will be consequences either because your GPA is crummy or you don’t think very well. Those of you who used your time wisely will probably start out in your fully adult life doing a bit better.

            This may not sound like a very inspirational message. But it is. Here’s the lesson that can be gained by those who leave this campus to start a very nice job and to those who go back to Mom and Dad’s basement to start figuring out what’s next: you are capable of doing things that change your own fate. It’s not just luck or racism or networking or family connections that determine how successful you will be as an adult. How much effort and thoughtfulness you put into it actually makes a difference. You are not a hopeless victim of circumstances. You are responsible.

            Being responsible is, or was, just an ordinary thing. It’s part of the order of life. Several generations of Americans have been told that being responsible and being ordinary is bad. But when it comes to the basic moral principles of life, it’s essential. Being responsible is the principle of action. For what? For praying to and worshiping God, doing good work that produces some useful good or service, getting married and having children, helping take care of members of your extended family, voting, volunteering, talking to your neighbors, and going to funerals. These are not just consumer options; they’re the normal course of life.

Do some of these rules of ordinary life have exceptions? Sure, not everybody will get married and have kids, sometimes because of health or a calling to some vocation like Catholic priesthood or religious life. You may not be able to volunteer for much either, depending on your job and your kids. But these are the things to which you should be aspiring. They bring ordinary happiness. The people who do them become extraordinary individuals.

Yes, it’s ok to want to be extraordinary! It’s just that you have to want to become extraordinary in the right way. You may have ideas of becoming extraordinary by becoming famous or rich. These things are fine to desire up to a point. But it’s better to fix your eyes on goals that might have fame or money as a side-effect. The ancients talked about the virtue of magnanimity—great-souledness. People today talk about it as a kind of generosity toward others, especially in giving praise. And it is that. But it is really a kind of noble willingness to take on great challenges and tasks that are of benefit to your community. That could be in your capacity as a business owner or a public servant or a volunteer. It could be as the mom or dad of a great bunch of kids.

You see, it’s not actually the size or the pay or the publicity of the tasks that you take on that will truly mark you out as extraordinary. It is that they are good things to do for your family, your community, your nation, and, by virtue of the first three, the whole world. It is that you do them with prudence, justice, courage, and temperance. And it is whether you pursue them with a great love as part of your faithfulness to God.

You likely can’t solve the big problems in our world. That’s mostly because all real problems in this beautiful but broken world are insoluble this side of the New Heaven and Earth. But it’s also because you are unlikely to bestride the world as a colossus, as Shakespeare’s Cassius says Julius Caesar does. You’re probably not even going to be Elon Musk. But you can do something neither Caesar nor Elon nor any of the other big figures in our world do. You can be a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a colleague, a city council member, a softball coach, and many other roles in the place where you live. You can do things that might be done by anybody but will only be able to be done in the way you do them if you do them.

You live in a time in which too many people have sought the extraordinary and found only the abnormal. After you leave this ceremony, take your pictures, have your celebratory meal, and then go out to live a life that follows the order of responsible adult life. Make it extraordinary, especially in the faithfulness and love with which you pursue ordinary and extraordinary tasks for the good of the people you’ve been put among. The media and the internet may not notice you, but your family, your friends, your community, and God will.

David P. Deavel teaches at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, and is a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @davidpdeavel.  

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George B
George B
14 days ago

Wish there were a lot more people, Teachers, like you.Very inspiring and hopefully we’ll win these kids back soon.

Brenda G
Brenda G
14 days ago

Great idea to promote a positive outlook, no one says being successful, extraordinary is an easy path or direction. Positivity and prayer however you do it is very refreshing. Thank you!

Karen S.
Karen S.
14 days ago

Good speech!

GT Patriot
GT Patriot
13 days ago

Will the anarchists on our campuses during the least 3 weeks receive the same attention 3 years from now that the Jan 6 protest has received ?

David Millikan
David Millikan
14 days ago

Excellent article. Even Communist Google is Censoring Pro-Trump Ads to protect the TRUTH about Dictator Beijing biden.

John
John
14 days ago

Well said and to the point

Gary
Gary
13 days ago

That is spot on perfect. More people should think like that.

Elaine Box
Elaine Box
14 days ago

Thank you, sir. You gave me hope for our children. May God watch over us and enter more hearts and lives everyday.

GT Patriot
GT Patriot
14 days ago

Crimethinc.com is one of many websites for organizations that specialize in promoting anarchy, communism, and protests. What we have seen in the past 3 weeks.is professionally organized anarchy hiding behind the “student” label.

Cissy H
Cissy H
14 days ago

Amen. And my those with closed ears to truth return to the basement and stay out if the wag of those who do and believe they can be responsible adults leading not leaning on others.

Robert Zuccaro
Robert Zuccaro
13 days ago

“Cancelled due to public safety concerns” sound familiar? All that’s lacking is a few cops chasing a lone surfer down the beach and its COVID all over again. Once again, instead of common sense lets go to the extreme! Don’t crackdown but punish people not even there.

Helen Throckmorton
Helen Throckmorton
14 days ago

I love this article!!!

Fran
Fran
12 days ago

reminds me of an old Irish saying…..God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,the courage to change the things I can,and the wisdom to know the difference……..

Bruce
Bruce
13 days ago

Nicely said.

uncleferd
uncleferd
13 days ago

I have no trouble seeing why that demented, militant, obnoxious, liberal crowd has to “harvest” votes… given that syphilis could beat them handily with no campaigning….

That’s Just me though
That’s Just me though
13 days ago

You sound like you should be giving bad cryptocurrency Advice to desperate people instead of this lol

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