If my memory is accurate, I’ve attended at least 12 graduation ceremonies, not counting my own. All those commencements included a speaker, and no doubt all of those speakers offered advice to the graduates. Some of it was probably even good advice — although it must not have been memorable, since I don’t remember it. In my defense, I normally have other things on my mind on these occasions, like picking out that one special graduate in a sea of caps and gowns.
This spring, my family will be assembling for two more graduations: one bachelor’s degree and one master’s degree. I’ll try to pay attention to the commencement speakers, but I might be too busy celebrating the end of 10 consecutive years of tuition payments when our third and final kid walks across the stage.
The one piece of graduation advice I do remember has stuck with me for years, because I thought it was such bad advice. The speaker was Jack Hanna, longtime director of the Columbus Zoo, who spoke at our daughter’s Ohio State University commencement. Even though I didn’t like his advice, I do like Jack Hanna. He’s done amazing things for wildlife conservation, and he clearly loves his work. But he missed the mark when he told the graduates, “If you choose a job you love, you’ll never have to work again.”
Nothing wrong with work
That advice bothers me, because it implies that work is something to be avoided. I have no doubt that Jack chose a job he loved, but I find it hard to believe he never worked at it. Zookeeping, I imagine, is a lot like farming. There must be days when the manure piles up, days when baby animals die for unknown reasons, and days when animals escape and terrorize the neighborhood. Are there any jobs that don’t occasionally have hard days?
One reason students work to complete college degrees is so they can get the jobs they want. Even so, no matter what job someone chooses, it will require work. Obviously, some work tasks are more enjoyable that others, but sometimes the most enjoyable part of a task is having completed it. That doesn’t mean the task was not worth doing, though. And there are some good reasons for people to do jobs they don’t love. Sometimes those jobs are necessary steppingstones to lovable jobs, and sometimes those jobs earn income that can be used for something lovable.
A job with no work might seem appealing, but I’m convinced that people are happiest when they have something to do that makes a difference in the world. That’s hard to do without work.
Of course, along with all that meaningful work, we all need some time to relax and celebrate the fruits of our labors. And that’s what graduation days are for.
So maybe it’s not the time to point out the efforts needed in the years to come. Instead, maybe I should stick to pointing out that one special graduate in the crowd and cheering.
Keck writes from Raymond, Ohio.