Spring. It’s graduation season, and commencement addresses are one of my guilty pleasures. Perhaps it’s because my college graduation had a poor speaker (“Don’t waste your life marketing hairspray,” she said to the dozens of marketing majors hoping to work for Procter & Gamble). Or maybe I am hopelessly trying to cling to my youth, remembering when I was a naïve young graduate ready to conquer the world. Either way, I enjoy a good commencement address. Each May I again read David Foster Wallace’s classic “This is Water,” or Steve Jobs’ address at Stanford, both of which are really the pinnacle of the genre.
This season, I enjoyed Jon Lovett’s (not Jon Lovitz) speech at Pitzer College. Here’s the bit I liked the most:
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "Yeah, this should definitely be in 3D."
No, what he said was, "[T]he test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." That's what you have to do: you have to be confident in your potential, and aware of your inexperience. And that's really tough. There are moments when you'll have a different point of view because you're a fresh set of eyes; because you don't care how it's been done before; because you're sharp and creative; because there is another way, a better way. But there will also be moments when you have a different point of view because you're wrong, because you're 23 and you should shut up and listen to somebody who's been around the block.
As somebody who has long suffered from “Smartest Guy in the Room Syndrome,” I wish I’d been able to internalize this advice sooner. I’m still decades away from having enough wisdom to give a commencement address of my own, but I’ll add this to the list of things I wish somebody had told me when I was young(er) and stupid(er).