Congratulations, graduating class of 2019:
I never got a chance to give a speech at my own high school graduation, but I was close. Had 138 other members of the Troy High School graduating class of 1992 been sick and unable to attend our commencement ceremony, that would have been enough to bump me up to valedictorian.
In any event, I know you probably are ready to take over the world, and most commencement speakers would probably stand here and tell you that you have all the tools to do so, the world is your oyster, carpe diem and so on and so forth. I’m not here to tell you those things.
I’m here to tell you that most of you will not grow up and take over the world. Many of you will spending every waking moment working just to carve out the most meager existence possible. Some of you will leave your hometown with grandiose dreams, only to return four or five years later and live with your parents until you are 28.
Trust me, I know what I’m talking about here. It happened to me.
But that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with working hard, raising a family, being a respectful member of your community and never achieving fame and fortune. It sure as heck makes you a better person than, say, a Kardashian.
So I’m not going to stand here before you and give you tips on taking over the world. Instead, I’m going to give you three simple tips that will help you survive adulthood. Because there’s going to be more days than I care to mention in which that’s all you will be doing — merely trying to keep your head above water.
But I’ve found if you follow these three simple rules, you’ll at least live to be 45 — which is far longer than most folks probably predicted for me coming out of both high school and college. As you set forth on your own journey, please remember the “Three Ls:”
1) Laugh — Laugh always. And don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself, because if you don’t, someone else will probably be there to laugh at you. And in this digital day and age, they’ll probably also record it and it will go viral within 30 seconds and you will forever be YouTube famous. So, I strongly suggest you have a pretty good sense of humor about things.
I’ll never forget the time — shortly after I had graduated college and started at the Troy Daily News — that my mom answered the phone (I really did live at home until I was 28) and told me Sports Illustrated was on the line. This was the moment I had spent my whole life waiting for. After toiling away through college and at my hometown newspaper, I was finally getting called up to the big leagues.
I remember grabbing the phone out of her hand and breathlessly saying, “Hello, this is David Fong, how can I help you?”
To which the voice on the other end of the line replied, “Hello, Mr. Fong, if you are willing to subscribe to Sports Illustrated today, we can save you up to 50 percent off the cover price …”
So yeah … learn to laugh at yourself. It beats crying.
2) Learn — Just because you are leaving school, it doesn’t mean you can stop learning. In fact, now is the time when the serious learning begins, because life is the greatest teacher you will ever have. Life is hard. But it also makes us better people. Learn from your mistakes. Learn from your successes.
Every person you meet in this lifetime is going to know more about something than you are. Listen to them. Learn from them. In life, “homework” comes at you on a daily basis and there are pop quizzes every single day. How well you prepare will go a long way in determining whether or not you make the grade.
3) Never miss a chance to tell someone you love them, every single day. When I was a junior in college, I got in a fight with one of my best friends … over a girl. He was someone who had accepted me like a little brother when I was a stranger in a strange land at a school of 50,000-plus people. After he hurt me, I promised myself I would never speak to him again.
And I was right. I never did.
Long after my anger toward him had cooled and was eventually forgotten, I had lost contact with him. I figured I would never hear his name again — and I didn’t, until I read about his passing in an alumni newsletter. He had been killed in a head-on collision with a teenager driving a stolen car.
That was 15 years ago.
Rarely a week goes by in which I don’t think about Mike and how much I miss him — and how I’d do anything to go back in time and talk to him just one more time and tell him how much I love him.
You never know when someone you care about is going to be taken from you. Let them know now how much you care about them.
And with that, graduates, I send you out into the world.
Try to get through it alive.
David Fong writes for the Troy Daily News, a division of AIM Media Midwest.