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May 17, 2021 10 mins

In this episode of Commencement: Speeches for the Class of 2021, Ben Bowlin, on behalf of the entire cast of Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know, takes some time to reflect on making your own “normal”, as well as share some facts they may not want to know (pun intended), with the graduating class of 2021.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
M to the class of and the family, friends, teachers,
and neighbors who helped them along the way. Congratulations you
did it. Graduation might look a little different this year,

and it almost certainly feel different, But whether you're celebrating
with a small crew in person or gearing up for
another virtual event, this is your moment, which is why
we're bringing you the commencement. You deserve full of wisdom
to help you step into the real world and enter
a brand new normal. And now stuff they don't want
you to know is Ben Bolan m. I'd like to

begin by doing three things. First and foremost, I'd like
to congre adually, class of the Day has finally arrived.
You have lived through some of the most challenging world
changing events in recent history. Over the past year, in particular,
I'm sure things felt downright surreal. How many times did

you have to log into Zoom or Skype or one
of a dozen other remote communication platforms. Whoever thought we'd
end up actually missing those classroom lecture halls. How many
times did you feel inundated by the news, thinking, Okay,
we're in the grip of a global pandemic and you're
telling me you still want me to finish this essay

about Shakespeare on time. But you're here, which means you
did it. Forget all those old stories about how the
generations before you had it harder, all those anecdotes about
walking uphill both ways in the snow. You endured a
series of unique challenges and you emerge triumphant. So again

I want to begin and end on this congratulations. Secondly,
and just as important, thank you. Thank you for the
opportunity to speak with you today. And thank you to
your educators, your parents, your colleagues, and your friends, all
of whom play crucial roles in your journey here to

this moment. Thank you in advance for all the amazing
things you're going to do in the days, years, and
decades following our time together here. Third, I'd like to
bust some myths, hopefully in a way that reassures you
and empowers you for the challenges ahead. Let's start with
the idea of normal. I have no doubt we've all

heard the arguments about different versions of normal over the
past year. When will the world return to normal? Are
these various new wrinkles of existence some new normal? These
debates are well intentioned, but they miss the bigger point.
Normalcy itself is a myth. It has always been so,

and in many cases in the US and abroad, it's
quite possible that a lot of things we considered normal
weren't that great to begin with, like buffets. How weird
is it to look back at the years before the pandemic,
and remember buffets, you get an a line with total strangers,
your face inches from a tiny pane of glass purposely

meant to gather snot and sneezes. And then you'd share
spoons with these strangers as you inched forward, one step,
one scoop at a time. While buffets may not go
the way of the Dodo, they were once considered normal,
and in the short space of just a few months
they became at least temporarily archaic, a relic, a reminder

of the past. And this has happened with a thousand
other things, many much more serious than Buffet's. Humanity doesn't
get everything right, but with each new generation we're able
to reassess the assumptions the normal of the past, and
we have an opportunity to make something newer, something better,

to improve the world, even if only to a small degree.
This is where you come in, and it's where you'll
confront another myth, the idea of authority. Let's start with
the concept of improvisational comedy or improv. I promise I'm
going somewhere with this. So on stage, improv is both

a genre and a philosophy. The performers hop up there
with no script, no memorized lines, no memorized plot, and
together they build a story. While it is an indisputable
fact that some improv can be terrible, some of it
can also be astonishing and inspiring. And I'm going to

let you in on a secret. This isn't just on stage.
Everyone is doing this liter Really, every single person you meet,
no matter how powerful, is making it up as they go.
In a very real way, humanity is playing one long,
unending game of improv. No one has woken up with

a roadmap to life. This means the social milestones you
may have heard about by your first house by age X,
get married by age y, have a kid by age Z,
none of these are real rules. They're just something another
improviser made up along the way. You don't have to
be bound by the expectations of other people just because

they happen to be on a stage before you got here.
In fact, in a world of improvisation, your rules, your
own personal goals and aims and milestones, are just as
important as anyone else's. If you wake up tomorrow and
say my goal is to live in Bora Bora and
repair fishing boats, then boom, go for it, chase your jury.

If your goal is to be a teacher, an astronaut,
a parent, and engineer, a carpenter, anything, that is your
decision and no one else's. If your goal is, for
some reason, to bring back Buffet's, I may not personally
agree with you, but I have no authority to tell
you what to do. Very very few people have that authority.

You'll find, especially while you're young, that this world is
full of people that, with good intentions, want to make
you feel obligated to do things. And the truth is
merely this. You do not have to do what they say,
and I'm not here to tell you what to do either.
I mean, I'm a podcaster. That's a job that did

not exist when I graduated. I ended up here through
a series of events no one, especially me, could have
ever predicted. And I imagine many of us in the
crowd today will find ourselves in similar situations as time
goes on. Ask your parents and your older friends what
they originally wanted to do with their lives. You'll be

surprised by just how many found themselves in a place
they'd never imagined, doing things they never thought they'd be
capable of doing. So what I'd like to do instead
is to suggest we all remember just a few things.
Everyone is making it up as they go, and it
is never too late to change direction. You and no

one else sit in the driver's seat of your life.
You can choose your direction. You can aim for your destination,
and you can cruise or race toward it at whatever
speed you like, stopping, diverting, or changing your path anytime
you wish while you're on the way. This can be inspiring,

but it can also be frightening. How do we decide
where we want to go? If there's one great commonality
I've noticed and every person I meet, it's this, The
people who are happiest are the people who are passionate.
If you find yourself graduating from the world of education
to what I like to call the great what now

that existential crossroads we all find ourselves at during one
point or another. Let what inspires you guide your next steps.
I like to think of it this way. What would
you do if you could do whatever you want? Cast
aside financial concerns, social expectations, all those other external voices

telling you do this or do that. If you could
do anything you wanted, what would you do? That's where
you find passion, and I promise you, in any industry
on this planet, the absolute best individuals in their fields
are not motivated by money, and they are not motivated
by social expectation. They wake up every day because they

are excited. If you like them, love what you do,
then every is the first day of school. And a
side effect of this passion, a symptom of it, is
that you'll find yourself learning something new each and every day.
You'll know you're on the right track when you feel
that swell of enthusiasm, that little effervescent euphoria of learning,

both from others and from yourself. Somewhere decades from now,
there is another version of you, a little older, a
little wiser, maybe making a speech like this. As you
leave and begin the next chapter of your journey, Think
about this person, this version of you, years in the future.

Think of what you would like to say to them,
and think about what you can do to make this
future version of you proud. And if you can hold
this person in your mind, if you can find that
which inspires and propels you passionately towards the years ahead,
I promise you will meet this future version of you,

and they may begin their speech the way I'm ending
this one, by saying congratulations. I am so proud of
all you have done and of all you will do.
Knock him dead. Class of the future cannot wait to
meet you. You can find the collection of an incredible

commencement addresses from all your favorite speakers at the Commencement
Podcast on I Heart Radio or wherever you listen to podcasts.
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