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Celebrity Advice that Graduates Should Ignore

May 4, 2014
During The Pledge of Allegiance and The Star Spangled Banner, TAKE OFF THAT CAP!!!!  I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to yell.

During The Pledge of Allegiance and The Star Spangled Banner, TAKE OFF THAT CAP!!!! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell. (image via Wikimedia)

I just saw a clip of a celebrity telling a joke at a college graduation speech.  The punch line wasn’t that good, but the audience laughed heartily, and it made cable news, so everything worked out fine.

I understand why a school would want a celebrity for its graduation speaker. Celebrities bring publicity, and every school wants good publicity. Plus, it makes the graduates excited. Graduation ceremonies can be boring, so anything that livens it up is good. There’s one big problem with celebrity graduation speakers, though. Celebrities give lousy advice.

Celebrities often say mushy stuff like “Reach for the stars!” or “Follow your passions!” or “Go buy my next movie/book/song/etc!” The advice sounds great, and it’s always delivered well, with just enough emotion to make it believable (I’ve always had problems putting emotion into my voice. How do people do that?), but when you think about the advice, it’s impractical. Maybe I’m too practical, but graduation advice should be practical.

I don’t want to pick on any particular celebrity. They’re not doing anything wrong by speaking, and hopefully they’re speaking in the interests of the students and not for their own careers. Unless it’s somebody like James Franco or James Patterson (and I don’t know if they do graduation speeches), I don’t want to name names. I don’t want to become that kind of blogger.

Despite their success, celebrities aren’t the best people to give advice to graduates. This isn’t a knock on celebrities. They’re rich and famous, and a lot of graduates would like to become rich and famous, but most celebrities have advantages that most graduates don’t have, such as a combination of talent, good looks, family money, and/or extreme ambition.

Graduates might have some of those advantages, but most don’t to the degree that celebrities do. For example, when I graduated, I had some talent, but not the good looks, family money, or extreme ambition. If a writer had spoken at my graduation and had said “Follow your passions!” and I had listened to that advice and tried to become a writer, it would have disastrous. I wasn’t ready. Sitting at home for eight hours pounding keyboards wouldn’t have made me ready. I would have ended up broke and bitter.

Fortunately, I decided in college to use my education to get a job where I’d be employed for a long time. It’s a boring job. I didn’t reach for the stars. I didn’t follow my passions. But I’m doing pretty well. It’s the kind of story that graduates need to hear, but not from me because I’m a boring guy.

That’s why schools hire celebrities for graduation speeches. A normal guy like me is boring. I could have the most inspirational story (I don’t), but I’d put everybody to sleep with my monotone voice. A lot of non-celebrities are boring. On the other hand, most celebrities are great public speakers, and they’re interesting. My graduation ceremonies had non-celebrity speakers, and they were boring, and I don’t remember anything they said. But they probably gave great advice.

Last year at this time, I wrote a piece called Bad Graduation Advice (it looks amazingly similar to the piece I wrote this year). In that piece, I criticized a lot of bad advice that celebrities give graduates. I also gave one piece of advice:

Be content with having a job that sucks.

I regret phrasing my advice that flippantly. It turned some people off. I didn’t mean that you had to be content with having a job that sucks (so I probably shouldn’t have written “Be content with having a job that sucks”). I meant that not everybody can be a celebrity or live off their passion. Some people have to do the hard work that has to get done. Celebrities, as much as we might celebrate them, don’t do the jobs that have to get done.

So this year, I have rewritten my advice to graduates. I hope it doesn’t come across as too negative this time. I’m really not a negative person, and graduates don’t want to listen to negative advice. I don’t blame them. So here is my second attempt to give advice to graduating students this year:

Find your passion; then find a job that will fund your passion.


I have nothing against celebrity graduation speakers. If my daughters’ graduations have celebrity speakers, I’ll be eager to attend. I’ll just urge my daughters not to pay attention to their advice. I’ll also explain to them that off camera, celebrities are just people (with talent, good looks, and extreme ambition). After all, I’ve met two celebrities.

One celebrity hit on my wife, which I thought was funny. I was proud. The other one yawned in my face before I could even say anything. Most people wait until I start talking before they yawn. At least when the celebrity photo was taken, he wasn’t yawning. He just looked bored. But my eyes were open and I was looking straight at the camera, so I don’t care if the celebrity was bored. Neither of my celebrity meetings were at graduation ceremonies.


What advice do you have for high school/college graduates? What advice do graduates have for us old folk? Do graduates get tired of hearing advice from people they don’t know? Is “Follow your passions/dreams/heart!” really good advice and I’m too shallow to recognize it?  Has a celebrity ever hit on you and/or your significant other?


My job helped me pay my bills so that I could write this book in my spare time.

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From → Pop culture

  1. You should give graduation speeches. That’s good stuff.

    • Thanks. Maybe I could WRITE a good graduation speech, but we’d want to hire somebody else to deliver it. How is your vocal inflection? Maybe you could do it. Then again, if you gave the speech, you wouldn’t need me to write it for you.

      • I’ll just steal your thoughts. Or quote you. “As the great Jimmy Norman once said…” Actually I don’t think I’m great at speeches. I’d be better on radio.

  2. You should be a Celebrity Graduation Speech Writer! We don’t have this so much here in Ireland, it’s mostly writers or politicians who give the graduation speeches, but I’ve seen two celebrity speeches that I thought were excellent. David Foster Wallace and the fantastic Tim Minchin. Both are on You Tube and both are worth a watch.

    • I’d rather hear a graduation speech from a politician or a writer than most other types of celebrities. To be fair, I haven’t watched an entire celebrity graduation speech (except one of those that you mentioned). Maybe celebrities give great advice, but the news stations focus on the jokes and the cliché advice. Maybe, but I kind of doubt it.

  3. “Find your passion; then find a job that will fund your passion.”


  4. Mimi NL permalink

    Find your passion; then find a job that will fund your passion. <<– i have found my passion. I am anxious to both find a job that will fund my passion and the time and space for my passion!

  5. Wit Grit and Writ permalink

    Reblogged this on Wit, Grit, and Writ.

  6. Edit: Find a job that will fund your passion (unless that passion is orthodontics. In that case you are going to need to find a pastime that will occupy you when you aren’t working on your passion.)

    What twisted mind wants to work with teeth all day?


  7. Wear sunscreen.

  8. mkjwrites permalink

    This is great! Nice advice. And you aren’t a boring guy, from what I’ve read of Huckleberry Finn goes to Sensitivity Class, or whatever that was called. Keep writing!

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