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The best commencement speech you’ll never hear at a top university

The best commencement speech you won't be hearing this year, from a woman who hasn't publicly kicked her husband in the shins

Unlike Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Melinda Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Robert Redford, I was — inexplicably — not invited to give a commencement address to the college graduates of 2013. This, despite my email campaign offering my services at far more reasonable rates.

However, in the spirit of excessive confidence that so often defines Jewish women, I hereby offer my commencement.

For reasons that mystify me, not a single university invited me to deliver a commencement address this year. This, despite my having emailed more than 450 such institutions, alerting them to my availability and modest speaking fees. Sure, I may not be famous in the crude, “Entertainment Tonight” sense of the word, but I challenge those more illustrious guests to match my qualifications.

For starters, I’ve been successfully married for 25 years—“success” being defined as never having kicked my husband in the shins in public for telling unfunny jokes. How many celebrities on Entertainment Tonight can claim to have been married for a fraction of that time? Second, in five decades of life I have never been sued nor sued anyone else, though I came perilously close after hiring that contractor with the smooth English accent to remodel a bathroom. He sent the Three Stooges to my house, and they ripped out my bathroom one day, but never returned to install the new one. Finally, I am on good terms with all four of my kids. At least I think so. At least they call regularly. We’re good, aren’t we, kids? Text me, please.

Being ignored by hundreds of universities does not deter me from sharing my advice to the nation’s mortar-boarded, tassel-topped graduates. Now that I think about it, who needs the tzuris of airport security and schlepping around strange cities, especially with this pinched nerve in my shoulder? So much nicer to sit here in my street clothes and pontificate from the comfort of home.

(Time to cue “Pomp and Circumstance” in your head, please.)

To the class  of 2013, congratulations! You’ve spent four years in the cozy confines of the university campus, and based on recent studies, the term “higher education” has a double meaning for many of you. While you were busy taking notes or dozing during such intellectually expanding courses such as “The Vampire in Literature and Cinema” (University of Wisconsin), “Tree Climbing” (Cornell) or “The Joy of Garbage” (U.C. Berkeley), you may not have learned some of the lessons that will really help you have a successful life.

For example, flyers around campus have taught you all about the warning signs of depression, bullying, and assault, but did you ever take a seminar about how to find a plumber who knows what he’s doing? An honest auto mechanic? Trust me on this one, in my lifetime I haven’t seen many trees that have required climbing, but with four kids I’ve certainly seen plenty of toilets that have needed unclogging.

College has taught you to have an open mind, but this can be taken to extremes. Sadly, I have seen 20-somethings with minds that opened so far during college that their brains fell out. Just because a “study” seems to “prove” something, check it against your common sense. As Groucho Marx said, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”

You were taught to be tolerant of just about everything except for smoking and fossil fuels. As a result, you may have developed a needless prejudice against prejudice. It’s still a compliment to say that someone has a discriminating palate. Shouldn’t it also be a compliment to say that someone has a mind that can still discriminate between truth and fiction, real art and a bunch of metal shards pulled from a Dumpster, glued together on a mound, and given a title like “Alienation,” between the good guys and the bad guys?

Nobody likes a long lecture, so just follow these Ten Suggestions (some of them short enough for Tweeting!) for a swell life.

1. Ethics are usually not “situational” or “relative.” Do the right thing, not just when people are looking, but when they are not. Someone is bound to be looking, if you know what I mean.

2. You may have 1,498 friends on Facebook, but consider yourself blessed to have five real friends who are part of the fabric of your life. Care about them deeply and they will never “unfriend” you with the click of a button.

3. As an adult, you are unlikely to continue getting praise and awards just for showing up. Like Mark Twain said, “The world does not owe you a job. It was here first.” Be ready to work hard, and be a team player. That way, when the company downsizes, you might still be on the team.

4. Consider a “like-o-suction.” The adults who still pay for your health insurance are on the verge of nervous collapse at hearing you stutter this word every three seconds. Think of how you’ll stand out from the competition in the job market if you can speak without that verbal tic. Try it, you’ll “like” it!

5. Don’t spend more time working out with a personal trainer than with a spiritual trainer. The smart money is on your soul outliving your body, so better keep it in shape.

6. Find a meaningful goal for your life. As that great sage Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”

7. God gave you two ears but only one mouth, and this was not only for piercing options. Listen twice as much as you talk. People will think you’re a genius.

8. Forgive your parents for the mistakes they made in raising you. It’s a hard job. As you navigate your way through adulthood, you may be amazed at how much smarter your parents will seem in the coming years.

9. Unload your emotional baggage. It’s too heavy to carry around, and expensive, too.

10. Don’t worship the pursuit of money. Remember, it’s a renewable resource if you lose it, and as the Talmud says, “The more possessions, the more worries.” The only non-renewable resource you have is time. Use it wisely.

That’s my advice. If you find it more valuable than what you learned in “The Vampire in Literature and Cinema,” feel free to send me a check for $100,000. If a hundred grand is too much given all your student loans, I’ll take $50,000. I sure could use it, because God help me, I’ve got four kids in college or headed there, too!

About the Author
Judy Gruen writes about culture, family, Jewish growth, and why bad contractors happen to good people. The author of four books, her work has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and 10 book anthologies. She is a regular columnist on Aish.com, and her most recent book "Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping." She is an active member of Aish HaTorah Los Angeles.