Friday, 17 June 2011

Deal with it

RB.Tenorio via Flickr

If you thought Steve Job's commencement speech at Stanford was inspiring, you should check out Conan O'Brien's equally brilliant commencement address to Dartmouth graduates last week. In fact, O'Brien's speech had one up over Jobs, in that it was side-splittingly funny yet down-to-earth at the same time.

At almost 24 minutes, it runs like an episode of his trademark stand-up comedy. But there is a strong and sobering underlying message - one that is largely cloaked in a format so familiar and acceptable that it is easily digestible and even enthusiastically welcomed by the audience. Much like the concept of sneaking medicine pills inside raisins.

I thoroughly enjoyed O'Brien's intelligent humour, and laughed out loud at so many points. I especially savoured these lines:

"Today you have achieved something special. Something only 92% of Americans your age will ever know. A college diploma. That's right, with your college diploma, you now have a crushing advantage over 8% of the workforce - I'm talking about dropout losers like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg."

Sardonically funny, when a degree is the norm rather than the exception (especially when the other camp includes geniuses who are successful household names). I laughed too. But on hindsight, maybe we were all laughing at ourselves for being embroiled in the rat race in the first place. Even if you win, you are still a rat, no? A Pyrrhic victory if ever there was.

"My first job as your commencement speaker is to illustrate that life is not fair. For example, you have worked tirelessly for four years to earn the diploma you'll be receiving this weekend, and Dartmouth is giving me the same (honorary) degree for interviewing the fourth lead in Twilight. Deal with it."

Life isn't fair and we all have to deal with it. A friend of mine likes to say, "If life is fair, all your fingers will be of the same length." Weird logic to be sure, but if you think hard enough, there's actually some truth in it.

"When I got the call two months ago to be your speaker, I decided to prepare with the same intensity many of you have devoted to an important term paper. So late last night, I began."

Even from halfway around the world, it is impossible not to identify with what he's talking about. I vividly remember what one of my former lecturers said to quell grumbling over an upcoming deadline - something along the lines of "There's no purpose to postponing the deadline, it's not like you guys won't leave it till the night before to start anyway."

Ah, the life of an undergraduate.

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