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May 22, 2012
The To-Do List: For the Uncertain Graduate


This goes out, in particular, to recent graduates (HAGS.). With tassels flouncing, a “beg-ending” is reason to celebrate. But graduation as a celebration can inevitably be mistaken as a time of crisis since an ending and a beginning (see “beg-ending”) makes us all wonder about the unknown.

With Regina Spektor’s new album What We Saw From the Cheap Seats “Small Town Moon” in mind, here’s The To-Do List for what, “I thought you ought to know now by now.”

In no particular order:

1. Eric Olliff won the 2012 University Medal at UC Berkeley, majoring in Chinese Language and Literature and Conservation and Resource Studies. He spoke to his graduating class at General Commencement fully aware of the clichés that come with these types of speeches, but determinedly decided that uncertainty is something to become comfortable with.

"And while this uncertainty is unsettling and nerve-wracking at times, I’ve come to understand that it doesn’t have to be.

I came to Berkeley having no idea what I wanted to do with myself, and that turned out quite all right. Why then, do I have any reason to believe that the future will be any different? Some of us know what we want to do for the rest of our lives, and some of us are just as unsure as the first day that we stepped onto this campus. No matter where we stand, let us not fret or panic, but rather celebrate our accomplishments.

Berkeley is not a school that babies its students. Our hands have not been held throughout this process, and the very fact that we have made it this far demonstrates that we have developed the ambition and dedication necessary to navigate life successfully. So let’s not stress about the days ahead, for I truly believe that we can put faith in the fact that the same intelligence, drive and bad-ass nature that brought us to this very stadium today will continue to guide us into the future.”

To read the entire speech, go here

2. Charles Wheelan author of "10½ Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said," whittles down the essentials for incumbent graduates. He confirms that the unknown will remain the unknown, but offers up something tangible despite it not being all that shiny and pretty.

"2. Some of your worst days lie ahead. Graduation is a happy day. But my job is to tell you that if you are going to do anything worthwhile, you will face periods of grinding self-doubt and failure. Be prepared to work through them. I’ll spare you my personal details, other than to say that one year after college graduation I had no job, less than $500 in assets, and I was living with an elderly retired couple. The only difference between when I graduated and today is that now no one can afford to retire."


"6. Read obituaries. They are just like biographies, only shorter. They remind us that interesting, successful people rarely lead orderly, linear lives.”

3. Lindy West at, in the same vein as Charles Wheelan, (but in the parallel universe of graduation speeches), writes a hysterical and much appreciated list advising graduates on “real life”.

 A sardonic but truthful catalog on what we want (and need) to hear, West coins my new favorite phrase: “the creepiest Cheerio in the box”, reminds graduates of the high-yield investment in potatoes, and not to forget we are all “special snowflakes”. And here’s one important rule, in particular, to the know-it-alls out there:

"2. This is the most important thing of all the things: you think you know stuff, but you don’t."

 4. Dilara S. Cirit, Editor-in-Chief of Berkeley Poetry Review, quotes from her online well,

 ”If looking back brings you sadness and looking forward brings you uncertainty, then look to the side…I will be there for you.”


Photo credit: Mina Azarnoush

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