The commencement address you won’t hear

You are not special. You may not wish to hear that. It may be a shock to you. From the time you could walk until today, you have been told you are special. This comes from parents, teachers, and professors. You have been given participation awards for simply showing up. Likewise, you got school grades from kindergarten to high school senior by again simply showing up.

The college choice has traditionally been a chance to meet others with different ideas and opposing views on a wide range of issues. On campus you will be protected from so-called hate speech, which is determined to be anything that is different than your views. If you are white, you will be told you don’t deserve your “whiteness.” If you are a white male, you will be demeaned and degraded. You will be provided safe spaces when you feel the least bit threatened by anything imaginable.

You have probably been told, and will be, repeatedly that America is an unfair nation. You will hear that socialism is the answer. The answer to what, or other alternatives, I suspect won’t be discussed. Sexism, racism, and misogyny are common themes for the cause of anything that doesn’t recognize you as the special child you think you are.

You are not special. You are now one of several hundred thousand graduates who will be competing for the same jobs. Those jobs, with rare exceptions, will not have six figure starting salaries and corner offices. You will need to start where everyone else did, at the bottom.

If you need to work part-time to get your education, good for you. You have a leg up on the competition. If you choose a college major that requires some academic rigor, such as engineering, nursing, or the sciences, you will find it much easier to find employment. Otherwise, you are about to find out just how much, or more correctly, how little the past years count in the real world.

Consider a trade school. A shift in the U.S. economy is taking place. Many of the manufacturing needs of the country are taking place overseas. This places more emphasis on jobs that are localized and can’t be easily exported. This means trucking and transport, plumbers, welders, electricians, computer technicians, and mechanics. Compensation for these trades is generally higher than those of a college graduate due simply to demand.

You are now about to enter the real world. You will find that you must show up to work on time, do the job you are hired for (or more), and not complain about how unfair everything is. Employers don’t care about your race, sex, or political beliefs. You are expected to produce more for your employer than you cost. If you don’t accept these realities, you will be replaced by someone who does.

The real world isn’t fair. You won’t find safe spaces in the workplace. You won’t find protection from competition. You will find that you don’t have a right to a job, health care, housing, a car, cell phone, or anything else, regardless of what your liberal teachers tell you. The only rights you are entitled to are those enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and codified by our Constitution of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

You will also be expected to show respect to those in charge. If you choose to walk out on a meeting because you don’t like what you hear, or it is not in “solidarity” with some group, just keep walking. You won’t be invited back.

If you believe there should be free college tuition, there already is. It is called the GI Bill. Just serve in the military. Here is a history lesson you may not have heard. Memorial Day was, and is, to remember and honor those who lay down their lives for this country. You may hate the thought of war, but please keep in mind that some died for your right to hold any belief you wish. Remember, bullies keep on bullying until someone stands up to them. They don’t care about safe spaces, only that the U.S. military will kick their rears.

As you enter the real world, you have a choice. You can hold to the beliefs you have been taught by others who have never had to succeed in the real world, or you can adapt to reality. The choice, and the consequences thereof, is yours and yours alone.

Tom Riggins can be reached at


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