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50 Shades of Graduation

Oh dear.

You're graduating.

This is terrible news. Now you'll never be Steve Jobs. You won't even be Mark Zuckerberg. I know they want to hand you a diploma, but don't let them! You still have time. Flee. Flee for the hills! Send irate letters to your Teaching Fellows insisting that, in fact, you did not complete the course requirements.

This is the only thing. Otherwise, you're stuck.

Everyone always says that the requirement for success is failure. But look at you, succeeding! Being handed a diploma and clasped warmly by your extended family and called promising! That's the worst thing you can possibly do for yourself right now.


You have spent your life up until the present getting positive feedback on everything. At age seven, you drew a mediocre cricket, and someone put a gold star on it. (I'm sorry, "an excellent cricket." You're right. Please don't cry. It was a great cricket. You're the best.) I tell you this because the instant they hand you that diploma, all this will stop, and you'll be on your own. In the real world, there is no feedback. Nobody rewards you for good performance. You do not get gold stars for cleaning your toilet. In actual life, there is a depressing lack of stickers. Feedback comes in different forms. Are people yelling at you? This is a sign that you are doing something right, except for the times when it is a sign that you are a member of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Of course, I should talk. I write for a newspaper, which is just below Cocaine-Testing Lab Rat on the ladder of Jobs That Give You a Lot of Feedback on Your Performance. Every few days, I get a phone call from an elderly man who is unsubscribing from the paper because of me, or who wants to let me know that "most people who have AIDS have it because they want to have it."

But don't listen to me.

For some reason it has become traditional to pepper graduates with advice.

"I always pass on advice," Oscar Wilde said, "that is the only thing to do with it. It is never any use to oneself."

There is something about a mortarboard that gives otherwise sane and normal people the overwhelming urge to burden you with advice. Some of them cannot help themselves. They were asked to do it by a committee. But one can only take so many pieces of wisdom before they all start to blur together.

So here are some unhelpful bits of advice.

Follow your dreams.

Don't do that. Most of my dreams are harrowing chases through urban landscapes in which I am pursued by my high school history teacher, who is dressed as a bear.

Shoot for the moon! Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.