April 14, 2005

for the class of two double-O five

I recently discovered Paul Graham’s “What You’ll Wish You’d Known,” a speech that was originally written for a high school graduation ceremony, but that works just as well for those graduating college any time soon (For example: NOT ME ).

What do you want to do with your life?
“People are always asking you this, so you think you’re supposed to have an answer. But adults ask this mainly as a conversation starter. They want to know what sort of person you are, and this question is just to get you talking. They ask it the way you might poke a hermit crab in a tide pool, to see what it does.”

Or, as I’ve heard it put before, they’re not asking because because they expect you to have your life planned out, they’re actually looking for ideas.

You can dooo eeeet!
“Don’t get demoralized. Don’t think that you can’t do what other people can. And I agree you shouldn’t underestimate your potential. People who’ve done great things tend to seem as if they were a race apart… In fact I suspect if you had the sixteen year old Shakespeare or Einstein in school with you, they’d seem impressive, but not totally unlike your other friends.”

This has been a strong belief of mine that many people are actually strongly opposed to. You tell some people that the student body at MIT is just like any other and there’s a good chance you’re gonna see some palm to face action in the near future. It’s like insulting a religious institution: “HAVE YOU NO SHAME,” they would cry as I am banished from society in the name of protecting impressionable young minds.

Perhaps my favorite tidbit from Mr. Graham’s speech is actually in the footnotes, in reference to the oft repeated high school teacher mantra…

Behave like adults!
“I wonder if they’d like it if you did. You may be loud and disorganized, but you’re very docile compared to adults… Imagine the reaction of an FBI agent or taxi driver or reporter to being told they had to ask permission to go the bathroom, and only one person could go at a time. To say nothing of the things you’re taught. If a bunch of actual adults suddenly found themselves trapped in high school, the first thing they’d do is form a union and renegotiate all the rules with the administration.”

No Comments »

  1. i agree with the notion that almost all people are pretty much the same in terms of raw abilities. I find myself around people whose abilities are not far off from my friendss in highschool. I guess people like to believe otherwise so no one questions another’s place on the totem poll.

    Comment by pimpinoncentury — July 2, 2005 @ 9:44 pm

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