The Monday Morning Quarterback

My Commencement Speech

With the dog days of August just hours away, it’s now more than certain that another graduation season has passed where I was not asked to deliver a commencement speech. I’m sure than an appropriate University one day consider my appearance at their annual rites of summer to be imperative, I’ll not hesitate to accept their invitation, not just for the honorary degree, but because I have a great speech ready to go. I’d like to point out that I have gowns and mortarboards (with tassels) in all the most prominent colors, so there would be no need to provide me with a costuming budget. Here’s my speech; see what you think:

Look, kids, I’m sorry. Not because I was a little late, and not for that atonal drivel by Elgar, but for the situation we’ve put you in. And not the “Situation” that’s a millionaire because he is said to be “ab-tastic” and cavorts on TV with something called a “Snooki”, but an actual, real situation.

I’m really, really sorry.

Today, thanks to some wrongheaded decisions about energy policy that go back fifty years; thanks to some imperfect theories about economic revival that go back thirty years; but most of all, because of our national reaction to 9/11 and the irreplaceable loss of American treasure in Iraq, we’ve led the world into a financial tailspin. We’ve been on the edge of a precipice for years now; collectively, we’ve taken a deep breath and looked over, and to our horror, we cannot see the bottom.

Sorry about that.

Because now we have to move quickly, thoughtfully, and with insurmountable force to get ourselves ahead of the tides of fear and speculation. We have to decide how it is we want to live. We must unconditionally love and respect one another, all of us, because we are in the same boat, faced by problems that will wash us under, unless we work together to survive. There’s no room for negativity, no room for discrimination and hate, not one single minute for mediocrity. To win this one, we have to be at our best. And we must be of service.

So I’m sorry. Not that service is the only solution I have to offer, but that it may be the only thing for you to do for a while. Let’s face facts, kids. If you are anticipating beginning a career, this is a terrible time to be looking for a job. During the last few years, we’ve seen businesses close down, mid-level managers take early retirement, and layoffs of workers of all ages. Though there are jobs out there for those who don’t already have one, I’m afraid there just aren’t enough to go around.

So, in this new world of commerce where there is going to be a lot less actual commerce, you’ve got some choices to make. You can continue your education, you can look for work of any kind, or you can move back in with your parents and never come out of your room. There’s another solution, not as lucrative financially, but good for you and good for others. If you’re not doing it already, it can immerse you in a professional capacity. You’ll get loads of experience. You can be indispensable.

I’m asking you to be of service. Imagine how rough the coming years are going to be for community organizations. Funding has dried up and donations are scarce. Yet all of these community organizations will be necessary as more people fall off that precipice into the deep darkness.

Did I mention how sorry I am about that deep darkness?

Imagine what it’s like to be a leader of any one of these community organizations. Your funding dwindles as the need for your services skyrockets. You have to raise money, you need more visibility, you need a communications plan and you need all the help you can get. Then one day, there at the door is a bright, educated, informed, and motivated young college graduate (that’s you, kids) who steps up and asks, “Can I help?”

In times like these, it will be difficult start your career, much less make a living – it doesn’t mean you should stop practicing all that you’ve learned in college. Instead, you – and I – need to give more than ever. The times require that we be of service.

As you prepare your resumes and portfolios, and you’re looking for work, knock on the doors of community organizations, big and small. You’ll be welcomed. You’ll work directly with leaders; the CEO and the board of directors. By the way, “boards of directors” are those business owners who won’t hire you till you get some experience.

Imagine the exposure you’ll have. And the fun.

I’ve had a long career, but if you ask me, it’s the public work that resonates the most. And that may be the point. I started my career working for free and I’ll never stop doing public service. Because it means more to me.

Yes, these are dark days for America, but you know what? All I see is light. Yes, this is a turning point in history. It would be easy to shrink back from the challenges we face, but the times demand invention, innovation, imagination, and good old fashioned do-gooder-ness. We’ve not made it easy on you, but if you’ve got what it takes, you’ll make something of this mess. It’s your choice: you can stay home, or you can get out there and prove all over again that America can endure. Right now, the whole world is watching, so please, do not fail to try.

And kids, you won’t be sorry.

– Art Reker, Account and Creative Executive