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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Jayne: Let us commence with 2016 commencement address

By Greg Jayne
Published: May 29, 2016, 6:00am

I am, for a change, at a loss for words.

This is not a desirable situation for a columnist, nor is it the kind of thing a writer adds to their résumé. But after settling upon the tried-and-true column device of writing a would-be commencement address for this year’s graduates, I discovered that the task is more difficult than advertised.

I’m sorry, did I say “tried-and-true”? I meant cliché. Because every columnist, aspiring columnist, and — let’s face it — adult over the age of about 30 has at one time or another distilled their accumulated experiences into what they feel is the soundest of sound advice for a younger generation. And along the way they have deluded themselves into believing that the younger generation wishes to hear it.

This is particularly poignant — for me, at least — as the Class of 2016 is bestowed with the impression that it is prepared to face the world. That’s because my oldest is graduating high school and getting ready to matriculate at Washington University in St. Louis (Go Bears!). So, while this sound advice is applicable to all of this year’s graduates, it is written with one Emily Jayne in mind.

That advice: Read Mary Schmich’s column of suggestions for graduates. You see, in 1997, Schmich wrote for the Chicago Tribune a commencement column rife with more wisdom and humor than I could hope to impart. The words even got turned into a hit song, playing off the recurring theme of the column — “wear sunscreen.” And they included such gems as: “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.”

So, you can start with that. And then you can read Steve Jobs’ commencement address at Stanford University in 2005, a reflection upon life’s unexpected twists and the prospect of facing death. And then you can read the baccalaureate address from Harvard University president Drew Gilpin Faust in 2013, a brilliant and humorous exhortation imploring graduates to “run toward” life and its challenges.

The point is to read. Read good writers. Read people from different backgrounds. Read the words of those whose lives you aspire to emulate. The world is filled with an accumulated wisdom much more fulfilling than the latest TMZ story about the Kardashians. It is filled with a tapestry of characters and intelligence much more enriching than the latest cat video on your Facebook feed.

Words of advice

So, while commencement speakers have been imparting wisdom for centuries (NPR.org has a collection of memorable speeches dating back to Barnabas Binney in 1774), I will attempt to add a few suggestions:

• Believe the best in others. People tend to live up or down to your expectations for them.

• Be nice. It costs nothing and it pays dividends long after.

• Live in one of the world’s great cities for a while. You will be amazed at how a vibrant melding of cultures can open your eyes to the depth of humanity. Or, as Schmich wrote, “Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.”

• Be intellectually curious. Nobody has all the answers to all the questions, but everybody you meet knows something you don’t.

• Be tough, and don’t whine. The world owes you nothing.

• Be pliable, and don’t gloat. You owe the world your humility.

I know, I know, as far as oratory goes, this isn’t exactly “I Have A Dream.” So, when it comes to commencement addresses and words of wisdom, we return again to Schmich’s insight: “Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”