What you really learned at college
Greetings and salutations, Class of 2012, December division. As you leave the warm embrace of CSUN, you do so in the off-season. Everyone loves spring graduates, and you Decemberites are seen by the public at large as people with an unfortunate sense of timing, destined to show up for Friday parties on a Saturday, a bewildered look on your face like you just missed the 12:15 to Massapequa.
As such, your commencement takes place here in the lovely boiler room beneath Sierra Hall—if you catch a rat, you can keep him! And your commencement address will not come from some big-shot celebrity, famous author or noted statesman. Rather, you have drawn Jim McLauchlin, resident fat guy and agent provocateur. Hail, well met, and all that crap.
As you leave college, your medulla oblongata stretched to the breaking point with knowledge of things such as what a medulla oblongata actually is, I would like to take a few moments to tell you what you actually learned. No, really. Pay attention:
You learned to learn.
You did 120 credits, minimum. So you learned to learn. Now be auto-didactic. After 120 credits, you should know what “didactic” means, right? So keep learning. No, you won’t even want to think about it for a while. You’re like a football player on Monday morning. You’re sore as hell, and the thought of a book is gonna make you wanna punch something. So take six months and get good and drunk. Hell, call me and we’ll go on a friender-bender. But when you sober up and chase the hangover, come to grips with the fact that if you stop learning, you die. So choose to live. Keep learning.
You learned to deal with an occasionally uncaring bureaucracy.
The default switch at Admission and Records seems to be set to “It ain’t my job, go see Student Affairs.” Interestingly enough, Student Affairs’ rote answer seems to be, “It ain’t my job, go see Admissions and Records.” Welcome to the real world, son. Life is full of uncaring bureaucracies and chair-warmers with an eye on the clock and a countdown to 5 p.m. on the brain. Think it’s gonna get better? Not really. But college taught you to navigate a bureaucracy for years. And after all of that, I think anyone who matriculates through college should get a pass for one free trip through the DMV along with their diploma.
You learned how to jump through hoops.
Someday soon, your boss will want a red cover sheet, not a blue one, on your quarterly report. Why? ’Cause that’s how he wants it. And hot dammit, that last political science paper you did damn well on better have had one-inch margins, citations in footnotes only, and that font set to Calibri! Why? ’Cause that’s how some professor wanted it. Congratulations. You just learned that life is full of many hoops, few of which matter. Ain’t worth fighting over. Red cover sheet, boss? Sure thing!
You learned how to multi-task.
You held down a part-time job, 15 credits a semester, keg parties, chlamydia, friends and family, finals week, the lunch line at Chipotle and parking structure B3—the toughest task of all. And don’t forget, you did this all while checking Facebook on your phone under your desk for 30 percent of class time. You know how to juggle six chainsaws while humming the Albanian national anthem and hopping on one foot. You are now the biped version of a Swiss Army knife. You can handle any situation.
You learned who you are, and that 25 percent of people can’t be trusted.
Remember all those wonderful “group projects” you were forced into? Little groups of four with a presentation before the class on blah-blah-blah due in two weeks? Sure you do. In each gang of four, there was one dick who didn’t do squat. There was one Herculean performer who pulled everything together and did most of the work. And there were two middle-of-the-roaders who went along for the ride. Ask yourself now: Were you the dick? Hercules? In the middle? You know who you are now. And that a quarter of humanity is just a buncha chumps waiting to see who’s gonna pull their weight for them.
So congratulations, Decemberists of 2012! Now turn that tassel from whatever side to the other. And get out. The Shriners got this room in 30 minutes.