The Commencement Address No One Asked Me To Give

The below guest post was written by Matt Shipman, a science writer and father of three who lives in Raleigh. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @ShipLives or connect with him here on Google+.

Driving home from work recently, I heard a story on the radio about commencement addresses.

This made me wonder what sort of commencement address I would give, in the unlikely event that anyone asked me to give one. I think it would go something like this---

Greetings, graduates!

I am not going to spend a lot of time talking about whether you are special.

Some of you are probably special, or will be; most of you, by definition, aren’t. But (and here’s the thing), even if I said that none of you are special, every single one of you would think that you were the exception. See how normal you are?

Your class is also diverse: men and women of different races, cultures, religions, sexual orientations, and fields of study. What on Earth can I say that’s relevant to all of you?

Here it is: don’t be an asshole.

I am entirely sincere when I say that.

It sounds obvious, yet every day an astonishing number of people fail to follow that simple advice. So allow me to suggest some useful tips.

Be kind. Say please and thank you. Do nice things for people. (But don’t expect anything in return, or get in a snit if no one thanks you – if you do those things, you’re being an asshole.)

Now, being nice can be tricky. If you start running up to strangers and offering to help them, they may assume that you are planning to mug them.

So here’s an example of something nice you can do that will rarely scare other people: if you’re ever in line at the grocery store and the person behind you has a screaming child on their hands, offer to let them go ahead of you. They may not take you up on the offer, but they’ll probably appreciate it.

That’s about it.

Oh, and you should also work hard, engage in critical thinking, appreciate the roles of innovation and scientific research in economic development, and try to understand (though not necessarily admire) the perspectives of other people.

But mostly, don’t be an asshole.

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