A Message to the UGA Graduating Class of 2016

Ryan Seacrest will address the UGA Class of 2016 graduates at Sanford Stadium tonight.

The message that television host/radio personality/producer/media executive Ryan Seacrest will give as he receives an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Georgia is currently unknown, but it will likely be a message that is similar to other commencement speeches.  Some graduation speeches are different than others and those are the ones that end up viral.  Yes, there will be jokes, cliches and at least one turn back at a visibly uncomfortable Provost.  However, the commencement speeches all have one thing in common that is a bit of a shame:  The message is too late to make a difference.

Being able to do a commencement speech is a bit of a self-serving honor that says, “I made it.”  Many individuals will do a graduation speech once or twice, but others are sadly grizzled veterans at addressing these crowds as they will have spoke to several groups of college graduates AND do it every single year.  It is not an invitation to join or network, but rather an opportunity from someone that is “older” and “wiser” to say, “I did it, maybe you can do it too.  You probably won’t, but I guess try.”  The content of the graduation speech is forgotten quickly as it is typically hackneyed and formulaic.  The graduates and their parents exit with the feeling of accomplishment and the remembrance of the speech is boiled down to who actually spoke to them.  It becomes a contest between friends and parents who had the more influential speaker at their school and at this point, it is truly a waste of time.   It should not be forgotten that commencement speakers are not addressing newly minted graduates for nothing.

What is in Ryan Seacrest’s rider?

The message is delivered far too late and the message is ineffective.

The idea that “college” and the “real world” are separate is a notion that is completely unrealistic.  Everyone lives in the “real world”, unless the world is a simulation meant to fool humanity much like in The Matrix trilogy.  The experience at the University of Georgia is not just making friends, learning how to drink alcohol, random hookups, classroom experiences, choking on exams, negotiating with professors that made extremely vague multiple choice options, cramming for exams, learning how to use caffeine as a tool to focus when studying, making sure to catch a cab at 1:45 AM rather than 2 AM, long nights playing poker, tailgating and going to sporting events.  It is more than all of this.

The college experience is very much a part of the real world as there are real consequences to the decisions that are made.  Leadership opportunities, initiative efforts, networking, businesses built, PACs started, protests, arrests, pregnancies, abortions, drug habits, illnesses (including STDs), deaths, weight gain, weight loss, tattoos and many other real issues happened during these four years.  The unfortunate and inaccurate generalization of the college experience as not a part of reality is steeped in the classroom experience being more or less theoretical and what happens outside of the classroom is practical.  There are opportunities to put the theoretical lessons learned into practice and even come up with new methodologies.  College is canonical, just like any part of an individual’s life.

The problem is that this is not a message that is delivered on time.  Most of the graduates are going to have limited time and opportunities to try out new things and be bold.  The opportunity already passed them by as the expectations for exploration, experimentation and high-risk activity are minimized.  College students are time rich, resource poor and this trade-off provides the opportunity to build necessary skills and serve as an incubator for innovation, not people.  Graduation serves as an end to this status and most if not all enter into the typical lives that everyone else experiences.

Graduates:  Want to take a risk on a project that you believe in now?  Great.  Something has to be sacrificed and it is always your sanity.

A cruel truth is that an 18 year old is going to have a tough time seizing the opportunity after an “inspirational” speech upon entering college.  Very few 18 year olds have the maturity to be able to change their bedding, let alone try to turn theory into reality.  However, it has not truly been done and the commencement address has a 100% failure rate to inspire anyway.  Convocation and Orientation at the University of Georgia is part of a very confusing time because for many freshmen, the first half of the first semester is just summer camp with booze.   It is hard to resist the freedoms, clustering, hormones and partying.  The message has to be more than just “have fun, study, don’t break the law and use condoms.”  The message needs to be sent that there are alumni that wish that they did more with their time at the University of Georgia and realize now that they will never be able to capitalize on the available opportunities.  For most college students, the sacrifices are minor.

What sort of a commencement message would it be to say in a nutshell, “Most of you really wasted your time and money.  You had four years, did you really make the most of it to set up a future that is not depressingly typical?”

Much is made of the so-called “skills gap”.  It is true, it does exist to a degree.  Companies are more picky than ever when it comes to human talent and have every right to be.  Generally speaking, hiring is risky and expensive.  Greater automation is the future, many graduates can be replaced by software and hardware.  The ability to adapt is crucial and generally speaking, this is not a generation that is well-equipped to handle adversity.  Hustle is necessary, but there is a far more specific requirement than bare effort required.  It is about creating something and then working to see it through.  Understanding all aspects of what is being created is important as it helps make an individual more well-rounded and in the case of failure, still provides important lessons and skills that can be used for future projects and companies seeking talent.

Experience is filled with opportunities that an individual controls and the richer the experience is, the greater the opportunity for success exists.  Using experience to be multi-faceted makes an individual less likely to be replaced by automatons.  Nobody wants to be put in the situation where their livelihood is taken away from them and that they have nothing to provide in exchange for monetary consideration.  Industries, companies and methods come and go while people must adjust the entire way until death.  College students and newly minted graduates can have plenty of experience coming out of school, but will they actually try to attain it before they graduate?

Every graduate from the University of Georgia that participates in the Class Gift has their name on a plaque in Tate Plaza, more specifically in terms of location, where the notorious open-air preachers call the UGA female students “harlots” and spew hate toward Catholics, Jews and Homosexuals.

Graduates should be asking themselves, “What did I build or do to better myself and others during my time at the University of Georgia?”  No one wants to be just another number or another name on a plaque, there is a story to the person behind the name or at least there should be.

Students that are currently at the University of Georgia and the Class of 2020, there is still time to make the most of these formative years.  Create something.  Do it for you, more specifically Future You.  There’s only just so much time that one has to dedicate to their own desires before it goes through a recessional process.

Students May Ask: “Then What Should I Do?”

That’s an individual decision.  Recognize that with freedom comes responsibility and possible regret.  Those that cannot appreciate the freedom and time to pursue opportunities should go through one of these two mental exercises.  It will not take long, so do not worry.

Mental Exercise #1:

Imagine yourself in a supermax prison or having to perform hard labor in North Korea like the way University of Virginia student, Otto Warmbier, is unfortunately experiencing.  It’s harsh to conjure, but do it anyway.  Think of what you wish you could be doing with your life and all of the opportunities you would be missing.  Yes, in that actual situation Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs would certainly kick in and the desire for self-actualization is not exactly on your mind, but within the context of a mental simulation it helps because it is a scenario where you do not have any freedom in time, resources or thought.  Nobody wants to be a prisoner whether it be as a physical status or in their own mind.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Mental Exercise #2:

This is the guilt method.  Think about how scary it would be to graduate with likely a solid chunk of debt with no accomplishments show for it and to be just another graduate stuck in a hole of victim-hood waiting for someone to save you from the depths of the Hell that you created.

Creators and Doers Have Value in this world… don’t be a drone.

Always have something to offer to the table and the experience at the University of Georgia is intended to set it.  It is not just a requirement or a basic primer, it is supposed to be where you first gain practical experience trying things on your own!  Internships are not the only places to gain this experience, the process of creating a venture and making mistakes when doing so, provides priceless lessons. Creators and doers in all industries, fields and specializations are always the individuals that have the higher incomes, have the better jobs, create the impactful companies and have the best stories.

Setting the bar low on yourself is not only limiting, but it makes failure more likely and diminishes from the work that was done.  Always aim high and try to extend your tentacles into places where they do not belong, unless you work for a government agency.  If your friends are always coming to you for a crazy story or even for your expertise on something, you are on the right track.

Those creating ventures and organizations need to recognize that every venture and/or organization has global reach.  There may be a local touch, but there is always a global reach.  Build to sell, not to sell yourself short.  This is important because once one cedes geography and possible markets to others, they may never be recovered.  (Not to make it personal, but this is a lesson that was hammered home during my Senior year at UGA.)

All this said, Class of 2016, a good number of you blew some serious opportunities to use UGA as your incubator.  Now you must prioritize your time better with a much more challenging schedule and contractual limitations (read your employment contract very well and feel free to put in red lines, you’d be surprised what you can get away with…).  Never give up on trying to build something.  Never diminish your efforts or the knowledge that you have.  Never put yourself in a situation where you have to hope for a miracle or someone to come along and bail you out.  Waiting and hoping is not the pathway to success.  Might as well play the Georgia Lottery or Powerball.