OPINION: The Commencement Speech Students Really Need

Congratulations to the class of 2017! Years of hard work, the support of your friends and family, and the faithful love of almighty God brought you to this proud moment. In a short while, you will turn your tassels to the left side of your hat, and walk out of here clutching your degrees.

Good job, you finished the easy part.

When you leave this auditorium you go out into the real world. Everything this school’s professors and administrators sought to shield you from will be on full display and you will have to deal with it.

Remember that you worked hard to get where you are today. You’ll have to work even harder to get anywhere going forward. The world. Owes. You. Nothing!

You are not entitled to a decent wage, you are not entitled to be protected from ideas you disagree with, you are not entitled to anything except what you can pull from this earth with your own two hands.

Every hour you work, every dollar you earn, every accolade you take home has significance only by the virtue of all the effort spent to do so.

Here, you have administrators to set up safe spaces to protect you from conservative ideas, here, you have millions spent on support networks to help you not fail, here, you can chant “Not my President” and have people nod sagely at you as if that chant actually makes a difference.

Outside of these halls, is the real world. Out there, there are only a few people who have a vested interest in your success or failure. Out there, Donald Trump is President of the United States no matter what you say. Out there, if you live anywhere outside of densely populated urban areas, odds are most of your neighbors voted for Trump.

I have often heard people say they are offended as if that is an argument against my speech or the speech of others. It isn’t. There are billions of people out there with different backgrounds, different skin tones, different religious and political beliefs than yours. We all need to be able to stand accountable for ourselves, not seek to persecute those who disagree with us.

What use is there in being tolerant if everyone is forced to agree with each other? That’s not freedom, that’s oppression, the very thing America was founded to avoid, and the very thing I’m sure so many of you seek to stamp out on a daily basis. The only person who determines how you react to something is you. If someone says something you disagree with, you can throw a fit and shout them down, or you can act like the adult you are, with the skills you supposedly gained these last four years, and calmly and publicly expose the fundamental flaws in their ideas for the world to see.

I have often heard things like, “The minimum wage is too low”, “everyone needs affirmative action,” “I can’t work at a library named after John Calhoun.” The only person who truly has a say as to whether you are a success or a failure is you. None of these constitute anything remotely resembling a legitimate excuse for failure outside of a college campus. You are the only person who can tell yourself, “I can’t,” or “It’s too hard.” You built yourself up to earn these degrees with sleepless nights, cold sweats, and hot tears. You should carry every success and failure thus far as a badge of honor.

Just remember you’re about to start all over after you walk across this stage. Bills are coming. Rent, food, student loans, health care. You are not entitled to any of these. You built yourself to where you are now, but life is expensive, and so are those loans you took out.

You took them out to better yourself, and I’ll wager at least part of that is to better yourself in the eyes of others. If you needed financial help paying for that, you took a calculated risk, and now you’re having to pay back what you borrowed.

You are not entitled to anything but what you have scrounged together with all the hard work you put in. If you can take an attitude like that out into the real world, there is no reason you can’t be a success.

You have succeeded in this, in getting your degree. Now begins the real work.

Put that degree to good use, save your money, and make something of yourself. I fervently hope that all of you desire to build yourselves up, rather than tearing others down.

The value of a college education does not come from the slip of paper you’re about to receive. It comes from the skills you supposedly gained along the way. Writing, research, determination, public speaking, critical thinking. You all are supposed to be the future of this country. There are many things that need fixing here.

I just ask that you first examine yourself critically, and look for where you can build something great in yourself and for yourself.

You are the most important factor in determining your own success. Don’t let anyone else tell you that isn’t the case.

Anders Koskinen