I was given the distinct honor to serve as the student commencement speaker for the UWL Winter 2018 Graduation ceremony as I completed my English writing and rhetoric studies. Below is a transcript and video of my speech which I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed giving it.
Good morning all. Faculty, staff, friends, and families, I thank you so much for being here on this incredible morning. My name is Noah Finco and there is nothing else you need to know about me other than that I am one of you; a graduate from the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse.
Seeing that I am one of you, it gives me the distinct pleasure of knowing the question on everyone’s mind which is something to the effect of “What do I do now?” Now, I am sorry to say that I am not here to answer that question, and truth be told, only you can answer that question. But what I can do, is tell you about some lessons I've learned in my time at UWL that were either taught to me by people far more intelligent that myself or by screwing up spectacularly.
I can't guarantee that you'll find any of it inspiring, amusing or even comprehensible but, my hope is that you'll find a nugget of wisdom somewhere in there to take with you as you go off and do whatever it is you'll do. So, with that, here are Noah's 11 Lessons to Living a Semi-Decent Life.
Number one, having a dream is overrated.
There is a common adage that goes "You can't have your cake and eat it too." Like eating a cake, fulfilling a dream tastes sweet, but only for a short time, and then it's gone and you're left wondering what to do next. Rather than having one big dream or making one giant cake, I offer you to instead make cupcakes. For the same amount of time, effort and resources it takes to bake a cake you can make 12 to 24 cupcakes and extend that sweet taste over a long period of time, and if you do it right, perhaps even a lifetime.
If I lost you in my sweets metaphor, here it is another way. Having one singular dream causes you to have tunnel vision and you might miss some incredible opportunities in your periphery. Make small, attainable goals and put 100% of your effort into what's in front of you, but don't be afraid to explore because you never know what you might find.
Number two, a plan is only good until it's not.
There are two types of pregnancies, planned and unplanned and both of them led to you all. I am not saying don't plan, because you absolutely should, but you cannot go through life expecting everything to go according to plan. If there's something to be said about life after graduation, it's that it is far more chaotic and unpredictable. Being a skilled planner is as important as being a skilled improviser. And with any skill, they should be both practiced and appreciated.
Number three, be a student
Yes, we've graduated. No more tests, quizzes and exams right? Well, some of us have exams tomorrow so, wrong. Your diploma does not signify that you know everything there is to know about whatever your degree is in, it's a certification that you're teachable. Be exactly that, be teachable. Study the world around you, ask questions, seek advice. Though you may no longer be encouraged to attend the office hours of your professors, I implore you to attend the office hours of your mentors. Everything in life is a test, except this time, there is no syllabus and no one is going to answer you truthfully if you raise your hand and ask "Is this going to be on the exam?"
Number five, be a teacher.
Teachers some of the most important people in our society and to those of your who studied education, I both applaud and admire you. But, you don't have to be working in a school to be a teacher. Share the knowledge and skills you've acquired and remember that teaching is only 10% what you say and 90% what you do. Your students, your employees, your children will emulate what you do more so than what you say, do the things you want them to do and show them how to do it. If you do nothing else in our time after graduation, I ask that you strive to be the giants whose shoulders the next generation can stand upon.
Number six, be hard on your beliefs
Be intellectually rigorous, identify your biases, your prejudices, and your privileges. Constantly and thoroughly examine your opinions so you can have the confidence to stand by them when the moment arises.
Also recognize that one's beliefs only make up a small percentage of who they are, and you can still love someone with vastly different beliefs that you. You can still love you parents even if they voted for a different candidate than you. You can still love your friend even if they practice a different religion than you and you can still love your uncle who believes the moon landing was a hoax and that the government is comprised of lizard people in disguise. We all have one of those. Remember that love and acceptance don't require complete and total understanding, just patience and an open ear.
Number seven, learn to listen.
As is said before, listening is a skill and with any skill, it needs to be practiced and appreciated. Two people trying to converse while being unwilling to listen is much like two chess masters executing perfect moves on two separate chess boards. It's a massive waste of time and while everyone thinks that they won, they in fact lost.
Listen to what other people are trying to say rather than focusing on your response. Remember, too, that there is much to be learned from how someone saying something versus what they are saying. Some of you might have noticed that I skipped number four, good, you're killing it in the listening game. To those who missed it, you've got some work to do.
Number four, don't let fear keep you from doing the things you want to do.
Even if that thing you want to do goes poorly, knowing something is bad is a lot easier to deal with than wondering if it could've been good. Remember too, that it is in our failure to achieve what we perceive where we find our true selves and where authenticity comes from. Don't think of the butterflies in your stomach as nerves but rather as bravery building inside you.
Number eight, don't run a marathon in a chewbacca costume
This lesson was taught to me by a finance professor here. In every marathon, everywhere, there is always someone who chooses to run the race in a chewbacca costume. Sure it gets a few laughs at the start, but about halfway through, this individual begins to realize how warm it gets when exercising beneath a shag carpet.
And yet, despite the pain they endured and their commitment to the joke, they get the same exact medal as everyone else at the finish. That is to say, you don't get rewarded for making things hard on yourself and if you find yourself doing that, it is either from an excessive amount of pride or stupidity, and you don't want to have either of those.
Number nine, don't set yourself of fire to keep others warm.
It feels good to help others and it makes the world around us a better place. But don't let the needs of others pull your attention away from your own needs. The only way you can do the most good for the greatest number of people is if you're the best you that you can be. That requires self-care and the ability to say no.
Number ten, invest in experiences, not things.
If you make more than $32,400 annually, you are in the top 1% of the world in terms of income. And yet, despite this affluence, the U.S continues to be one of the most depressed countries in the world. Things don't make us happy, experiences do.
The newest iPhone X costs $1000. I've compiled a short list of experiences you could have instead of purchasing a phone that does the exact same thing the last four models did.
Go on a road trip, $1000 is gas will get you just over 9000 miles.
See a broadway play with a love one. Plays are usually $89 a ticket, musicals $125 and special productions are $319
Buy a national park annual pass. A $1000 will get you one for eleven years. That's eleven years to explore some of the most beautiful sights our Earth has to offer. And on the topic of our Earth, we get one, take care of it. Remember what I said earlier about being the giants whose shoulders the next generation can stand upon? This is a big part of it.
And finally number eleven, there is no real world.
I'm sure you hear this all the time. “Just wait until you get into the real world," as if college was some sort of fantasy land filled with gumdrop forests and tiny singing elves. You and I both know that it wasn't. The relationships you forged and lost, the times when you thought you couldn't go on any longer and did, the late nights studying in your dorm or in Murphy library or, for some of you, after your children have gone to sleep. The stress, the fear, the love, and the triumph. It was all real.
I invite you to think back to the person you were when you first set foot on this campus as a student. I would venture to guess that a very different person sits before me today. An adviser here once told me that college is a two to six year sliver of your life dedicated totally to the improvement of yourself. Don't sell that experience short. Appreciate and love the things that you've done here. Be proud of this accomplishment, celebrate it because it's worth celebrating
Today is commonly referred to as the start of a new chapter. While true, it is not chapter one, but rather a chapter succeeding several others equally as important as this one. The only way for you to continue writing your life story is for you to look back and appreciate where you've been.
I want to thank the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, it's faculty, staff and students for this unforgettable experience you've provided me and the others sitting in this room. I and many of us here have made the most of this opportunity and I am forever grateful to this institution. However, while I am grateful, I have accumulated a fair bit of debt because of it so could you just chill on asking for donations for like five years or something? Thanks.
With that, I thank you all for listening, I hope some of what I said was somewhat applicable. I congratulate you all on this accomplishment and eagerly await to see the wonderful things you will do as we move forward with our lives.