(first appeared at Yareah.com on 2/2/2014)
Every year at this time, being the influential writer I am, the requests to speak at graduations start to pour in. It just doesn’t seem like a commencement without a few wise words from Lance Manion. Because I’m stretched pretty thin during this time of year, I figured I’d publish my last address and perhaps others can try to recreate the energy and enthusiasm of a Manion speaking engagement.
“Dearly beloved, especially all of you sitting on uncomfortable folding chairs, with your square caps and colorful tassels, representing all the time and energy you traded so you could wear a colorful tassel, we are gathered here today to send off this new collection of fresh-faced graduates into the world.
It is my unique honor to say a few words to them before they depart.
In the coming months as you decide which career to choose, you’re going to hear a lot about two things: money and happiness. Depending on your upbringing, one of these will take a starring role in your decision making.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say that you decide that you need a lot of money to be happy but you’d also like to work with interesting people, so you find a market for something that nobody has ever thought of.
You find that if you bottle it, people stand in line just to snatch the stuff up. I could give you a long list of possible uses for somebody else’s dandruff but it’s not relevant to the point I’m trying to make. You create a solid brand name and you simply can’t keep it on the shelves. Everybody wants a bottle of your dandruff.
The problem is that you need to find a lot of people with dandruff and then convince them to let you harvest it off their heads. Not exactly the kind of people you want to be interacting with on a daily basis. I don’t mean to cast aspersions on those of you with dandruff, but even you have to admit that being paid to shake your head into a big vat every day wouldn’t exactly keep you in the most cheerful mood.
So you have this big dilemma. Keep raking in the cash selling dandruff, knowing that you’ll no doubt get sick of dealing with all things itchy and flakey, or find something else to do.
What’s the point of this little story?
Before I answer that, let me point a few things out.
If you want to be angry, really legitimately angry, there is no shortage of reasons to be angry.
The same can be said of sad. There are terrible things happening all over the place that can make you sad. You don’t have to invent reasons. Turn on any television, open any newspaper or log onto the worldwide web and in minutes you can be swimming in very good, completely understandable reasons to be sad.
You want to be indignant? No worries there.
What about disgusted or offended? There is vast sea of things to make you want to hoist the trembling fist or hang your head in your hands.
Do you want every bit of hope pounded out of you? Because I’m here to tell you, all you have to do is look and you can find the apparatus to strip yourself of every ounce of your optimism.
Do you want to wallow in despair? I’m not talking about the kind of blue that you get when you run out of toilet paper mid-shit. I mean the kind of despair that you can only feel when you’ve taken it all in and found that nothing you ever do will be able to change things. The grim understanding that we are all here for a short period of time and we, as a species, have decided to use that time being horrible to each other and every other living, breathing animal on the planet. In a hundred years we’ll all be dead.
Or can you say “Fuck that!”?
Can you muster up the willpower to ignore all of the foul goings-on and still laugh?
To find it in yourself to say “Yes, I know there is suffering and misery going on and the whole game seems fixed and nobody would care if I fell the fuck over right here and now, but I’m still going to be happy.”
Are any of you out there?
That can say “I don’t give a flaming crap, this smile will stay plastered on my face and I dare any of you gutless turds to try and remove it. It’s not coming down! It may falter but it will endure.”
If you only believe one thing I’m saying today make it this: It’s your only hope. It’s the only hope of the planet. It’s your only defense and its frail and it’s a fraud and we both understand it’s bullshit but never let it go. Not all of it. Not any of it.
Carry it in your heart and defend it with everything you are. Because they’re coming for it. They hate it. They fear it.
Be fucking stupid and laugh whenever you can and cherish people. Sweep them up whenever you can and shine like a torch for them. Be happy. Be joyful. Be happy. Sing in the shower. Be happy. Act crazy. Be happy. Dance. Be happy. Chuckle. Be happy. Sing in the car. Be happy. Be silly. Be happy.
It’s a decision. It’s a choice. Make it your fucking mantra.
And fuck those that aren’t, because it’s a war they know they’re going to eventually win. Fuck ’em with all the power you can muster.
Find a way to be happy. Beyond that, nothing I can say can help you.
And what, I’m sure you’re asking yourself, was the point of my first story?
The dandruff story?
Don’t be afraid to change your opinion of people.
Forgive them for their awkwardness and dumb stories.
They will sometimes surprise you.
And become allies.
And that will help make you happy.