TO THE CLASS OF 2013

You’ve accomplished something, whatever school you’re graduating from. Almost 25 percent of Americans don’t finish high school. Almost 70 percent don’t complete a bachelor’s degree. More than 93 percent of people in the world won’t finish college. Hundreds of millions across the globe, mostly girls, never attend school for a single day.

So you should feel proud. But don’t feel superior. Not everybody had the means or the support that you’ve had to get here. And anyway, lots of people have done very well without graduating. Peter Jennings and Hans Christian Andersen didn’t finish high school. Mark Wahlberg, Louis Armstrong, and Julie Andrews didn’t finish high school. Edward Albee, Adele, Paul Allen, Dan Akroyd, and Jane Austen never finished college. That’s just a few of the A’s. 

You’re going to have a good time celebrating this event, as you should. Maybe you’ll party in a hotel. Tomorrow, there will be a maid who will clean up the room you partied in. Chances are she’s cleaning that room because she’s trying to get somebody she loves to the chair you’re in. She’s accomplishing a lot too.

Try to find at least one person that you can confide in. Somebody you trust absolutely and can call at 3 in the morning with a crisis. It doesn’t matter if you see them every day or once a year. You’d be surprised how much you might rely on them down the road. To me, a person like that is right up there with food, water, and shelter. Once you have those, you can do anything.

Also, try to be that kind of person for someone else. Think as hard as you can for good suggestions, and listen to every word. If they tell you something in confidence, take it to the grave. No matter what. Helping somebody like that is one of the most satisfying feelings you can have in life.

Don’t take too much advice. When you do take advice, take it from good advice givers. One of life’s challenges is identifying who they are. For example, I may not be one of them. So maybe you should reject my advice and then go and take too much advice. You’ll have to figure it out on your own.

You’ve probably heard that you’ll never use most of the math you’ve learned, but I think that’s wrong. That usually comes from people who didn’t like math or weren’t any good at it. Math is more useful than you think in life. You never know. 

Actually, I think that goes for anything you learn. You can’t remember everything you’ve studied, but try to treat every bit of knowledge that comes your way how a really talented seamstress might use fabric that others would discard. Every scrap could get used at some point to make something cool.

Keep learning. Know it all. 

If you haven’t had your heart broken yet — really broken to the point you can barely get out of bed — then the diploma you’re receiving is just a rain check until the actual commencement ceremony you’ll have some day. It might be a person you love that rejects you, or not getting a scholarship or a job you want. You will pour your heart into something and fail. That’s the real graduation. Your grandparents probably won’t be there for that day, and you won’t get cards and checks and a mimosa. But it’s every bit as important an event as this day is. It’s a transendence. That’s the day you start becoming one of the greats.

It’s never too late to thank your teachers. Or to thank anyone for something you appreciate only later. Or to express condolences. In fact, it might mean even more years later. 

The right response when you get a compliment is to simply say thank you. Don’t deny it or reject it. If the person didn’t mean the compliment, then who cares how your respond? But more often than not, they meant what they said. Take the money and run.

Avoid the people who discourage you from what you want to do. They are poison for you and me. Usually, they are people who were discouraged from doing what they wanted to do and listened. That turned them into discouragers.

Don’t be a discourager. No matter how silly somebody’s ideas or plans may seem to you, nobody can see the future.  They may surprise you. Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper job and told he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Maybe the person’s idea really does turn out to be lousy. Let the person fail on their own. Buy them a drink — that might be their commencement day. Then encourage them to do the next thing. They’ll remember you when they open their version of Euro Disney.

When you meet somebody new, ask them questions. You can always learn something from someone, and if you don’t then it’s a missed opportunity.

Learn a good card trick. Everyone loves them.