Thirty years ago this week I graduated from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., with a degree in History. I believe the yearbook selected me as most likely to remain hideously immature. No matter, I made it through and launched myself on society. For the first few years it wasn’t pretty.
But something miraculous happened. I actually became successful. And on May 19, I returned to Marist to give the commencement address. When I climbed the stage in my spiffy black robe, some of my old professors looked like they needed oxygen.
About 10 thousand people were in attendance, and I realized the crowd would be tough. Many graduation speakers don’t connect with the students before them. I can’t remember a single word the politician who spoke to me 30 years ago said.
But as I walked to the podium to begin my remarks, I was determined to cut through the mist. I actually saw my younger self seated in the fourth row. The guy I locked in on had kicked off his shoes, was slouched in his chair, and his face radiated a signal: OK, bud, show me what you got.
After a few opening pleasantries, I got down to business. And this is what I told the Marist College graduating class of 2001:
“Listen to me now. A few years after graduating from here I figured out something very important. I pinpointed the main talent that I was born with and it was the ability to write. Every person on this earth has a natural talent. You’ve got to find yours and then figure out a way to make a living using it. That’s the key to happiness in your professional life. Don’t let anybody else tell you what to do. You figure it out.
“The reason I believe in God is because of this talent business. If there were no God, there would be a couple of slugs running into that wall over there. People who could not do anything. But that doesn’t happen. Everybody can do something well.
“Don’t panic if you haven’t figured out the talent thing. Take opportunities as they present themselves and work hard. Eventually, it will come to you.
“Once you figure out your talent then you have to do the other very difficult thing in life. And that’s to live honorably. You have to do what you say you are going to do. It’s as simple as that. You don’t have to read Descartes. You don’t have to be a scholar. You simply do what you say you’ll do all the time. If you live by that code you will accomplish what you want to accomplish.
“The last thing I am going to tell you is this. There is an order to the Universe. The sun goes up, the sun goes down. The tide comes in, the tide goes out. The seasons change. There is also an order to your life. Good things are going to happen; bad things are going to happen. There is nothing you can do to prevent those things. But, it’s how you react to the good and to the bad that will make the difference at the end of your life.
“When you look back from your deathbed to what your life was, it all will come down to how you handled the things that came your way. How you evaluated people, how you chose your mate, how you chose your friends.
“There is an order to your life. You will succeed unless you screw it up. Your parents and teachers have provided most of you with the opportunity to build a foundation. You can do I what I have done. You can go beyond what I have done. Be honorable. Find your talent. Work hard. And be true to yourself. Your life is waiting for you.”