And, I have to tell you this: You will spend more money framing your child’s diploma than they will earn in the next six months. It’s tough out there, so be patient. The only people hiring right now are Panera Bread and Mexican drug cartels.
Yes, you parents must be patient because it is indeed a grim job market out there. And one of the reasons it’s so tough finding work is that aging baby boomers refuse to leave their jobs. Trust me on this. Even when they promise you for five years that they are going to leave—and say it on television—I mean you can go on YouTube right now and watch the guy do it, there is no guarantee they won’t come back. Of course I’m speaking generally.
But enough. This is not a time for grim prognostications or negativity. No, I came here today because, believe it or not, I actually do have something real to tell you.
There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.
I went to college with many people who prided themselves on knowing exactly who they were and exactly where they were going. At Harvard, five different guys in my class told me that they would one day be President of the United States. Four of them were later killed in motel shoot-outs. The other one briefly hosted Blues Clues, before dying senselessly in yet another motel shoot-out. Your path at 22 will not necessarily be your path at 32 or 42. One’s dream is constantly evolving, rising and falling, changing course. This happens in every job, but because I have worked in comedy for twenty-five years, I can probably speak best about my own profession.
It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound re-invention.
So, at the age of 47, after 25 years of obsessively pursuing my dream, that dream changed. For decades, in show business, the ultimate goal of every comedian was to host The Tonight Show. It was the Holy Grail, and like many people I thought that achieving that goal would define me as successful. But that is not true. No specific job or career goal defines me, and it should not define you. In 2000—in 2000—I told graduates to not be afraid to fail, and I still believe that.
But today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.
I have told you many things today, most of it foolish but some of it true. I’d like to end my address by breaking a taboo and quoting myself from 17 months ago. At the end of my final program with NBC, just before signing off, I said “Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen.” Today, receiving this honor and speaking to the Dartmouth Class of 2011 from behind a tree-trunk, I have never believed that more.
– Conan O’brien