"I say to you as you embark on your adult life, take a moment to look back and honor your parents, because they're the ones who paid for your education. They're the ones who stood by you the whole time. And they're the ones who you'll be moving back in with in the fall." - Bill Maher, May 15th, 2009 on Real Time with Bill Maher
Many college graduates around the country threw their mortarboards into the air and left commencement ceremonies last weekend wondering what the world holds for them. I was one of those college graduates.
Four years I studied Film/Video at Columbia College in Chicago. Four years I spent working toward the point where I would leave the friendly south Loop campus in Chicago and embark on a path into a future that it is more unknown than any future I have embarked into in my life. And, until a few weeks ago, I had no idea where I would be beginning life after college.
I'm in a situation that most graduates (depending on what career they were in pursuit of) find themselves in: How long will I cling to my dream before I let financial realities force me into choosing a job with a much better job outlook? How long do I commit to doing something I am passionate about before I sell out and just do something to get by?
All graduates heard some semblance of a commencement speech from an honoree as they were graduating. Luckily, I didn't have to hear David Souter, Anderson Cooper, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gen. David Petraeus, Jamie Dimon, or any other person whose integrity to offer sound advice might have been questionable (especially if they didn't properly confront cultural, social and political realities they had helped create in their speech).
No, the commencement ceremony I walked in had comedian, singer, writer and actor Robert Klein speak as the honoree.
Columbia College Chicago is unique. This ceremony had very little pomp and circumstance. Only "Walk This Way" played by a fantastic music ensemble, an MTV-style short video on a college end-of-year festival called Manifest, and lots of talk about how distinctive the Columbia experience is for students and anyone who has ever had a chance to be part of the college.
It may surprise you that at this critical juncture in my life I would think a comedian who starred in the famous "Cheeseburger" sketch on Saturday Night Live has more insight on life than any politician, military officer, or sports celebrity. Ask yourself: When was the last time a comedian who had a chance to be honest about the world chose to avoid the opportunity?
Klein's speech cut through the cookie-cutter speeches that one normally hears at commencements and provided an opportunity to forget the ceremony would be more than two and a half hours long.
In his speech, he spoke about a concern that America was "dumbing down and quickly", urged graduates to not forget the "heft" of a book and what it's like to read one in a chair, recounted past events in history that had influenced America, and talked about the responsibility graduates had to use technology that is growing exponentially correctly.
There was talk about the economy being bad and a nice part about what the impact of all this technology is going to be on the future (similar to a section in President Obama's commencement speech which he recently delivered at Hampton University).
As Klein spoke about how this country had come such a long way and expressed his anxiety over the fact that America does not necessarily have guaranteed pre-eminence in the world, he delivered this fitting quip:
"Such a cliche' to say we all are depending on you because you are the youth but... We are all depending on you because you are the youth."