When you think of commencement speakers, you think of people who are inspirational, people who are eloquent, people who changed the world. When you think of high school students, you think of people who are a little immature, slightly awkward and still learning to be an adult. Welcome to opposite day.
Today you’re graduating from high school. You should feel incredibly proud of yourself. That doesn’t mean you should rest on your laurels. Or your yannys. Some of you heard laurel, some of you heard yanny, but the most important thing to know is neither of these will matter by the end of the summer. Here’s what will matter: you, the class of 2018, will have graduated. You won’t be classmates anymore. You’ll be adults who Facebook search each other at 2 a.m. for the next 10 years.
So before you go, I want to share a few thoughts with you. Not advice, necessarily, just a few things I learned that helped me along the way. First thing is this: when something feels hard, remember that it gets better. Choose to move forward. Don’t let anything stop you. I met many of you earlier this year at the March For Our Lives in Washington DC. It was an amazing day. Thank you for your courage and your bravery, and for giving amazing speeches I could never possibly live up to.
My wife and I brought our two little girls because we wanted them to see what hope and light looks like. And I was standing there watching you guys in awe, I was lucky enough to stand with a lot of your teachers, and let me tell you something, your teachers are so proud of you. They were like, “I taught him! I taught her! I taught them about history!” And now you’re making history. And that’s just a few of you I was able to meet, I can’t imagine what the rest of this class is accomplishing, and will be able to accomplish. And your teachers, and everyone, are so proud of you.
My teachers weren’t really proud of me like that. I wasn’t the best student and I wouldn’t say I was dumb, I just had “other strengths”. I had to go to summer school and my mom and dad were like, “Look at you Mr Smart Guy, now you’re going to summer school, how’s that make you feel? You ruined your whole summer now?” And it made me feel awful, I went to my bedroom and cried. But here’s the thing, I went to summer school and met 15 versions of myself. Everyone was funny, and slightly dumb and I loved it! I loved summer school, it was fantastic. I met my people.
And my point is, every bad experience can have something good that comes out of it. Sometimes things that seem like setbacks can take our lives in totally new directions, can change us in ways we don’t expect. And make us better, and stronger. You guys have already proved that to everyone. You took something horrific and instead of letting it stop you, you started a movement. Not just here in Florida, not just in America, but throughout the whole world. The whole world has heard your voice, and that was you making a choice. That was you choosing to take something awful and using it to create change. That was you choosing hope over fear.
Another thing I want to say is, keep making good choices. I’m not saying it because you need to learn it. I’m saying it because you already taught it to all of us. I can’t promise that life will be easy, but if you make good choices and keep moving forward, I can promise that it will get better in ways you haven’t even thought of.
That brings me to another thing I want to tell you guys, which is, we have no idea what the future holds, and that’s okay. Don’t think about what you want to do. Think about why you want to do it. and the rest will figure itself out. I love what I do, I get to tell jokes and make people laugh and it’s awesome. People always ask me what the best part of my job is, and it’s that I get to make people happy. I’ll give you an example. About six or seven months ago, I ran into this girl on the street. And she came up to me and said, “I just want to let you know, I was going through a tough time, I was depressed, and you got me through my depression. I saw your clips on YouTube, thank you so much for getting me through such a tough time.” So we talked for 20 minutes, and then she goes, “Can I get a selfie?” And we’re leaving, and I hear her say, “Oh my god, I just met Jimmy Kimmel!” Point is, I love my job, and I know I could make her laugh, if she knew who I was.
A question people always ask a lot me is, what would you tell your younger self? There’s so many things I would say, but the first would be, lay off the carbs. The second would be, listen. Listen to everyone around you. Hear other voices. There are so many different voices in the world. We’re all different voices, different flavors, different colors, but we’re all on the same rainbow. And we need red just as much as we need yellow, purple and orange and blue and green – and burgundy. There’s good in everyone, so find what’s good in people. And when we listen to each other, we can find it.
Another thing I’d tell my younger self is, work hard for everything. Put one foot in front of the other and keep going, day by day, moment by moment. You always have a chance to be building something, working on something, pushing something up the hill, practicing every day rain or shine, in the mood or not. It’s not easy, but you have to keep trying, keep failing and having goals and pushing them ahead every day.
I’d also say, take good care of yourself. Check in with yourself every day. Put your phone down and be silent for a moment or two. Be kind. Think ahead. Have courage. Try new things. Remember the past but don’t stay there. Honour your fellow humans. Keep laughing. Celebrate anything you can as often as you can because it’s fun. Write letters and send them with a stamp in the mailbox, try that. Say hello to people. Smile more often. Be kind to people who wait on your table, bag your groceries, move your furniture. And when you dance, dance from the inside. And if I could give you one last piece of advice, it’d be this. Don’t ever get off your parents’ wireless plan. Ride that train as long as possible. It’s expensive.
On our show, we write out thank-you notes every Friday, for the most part, they’re funny or at least they try to be. But today, I want to say a real thank you. I want to thank you guys personally for showing us what it looks like to have integrity and courage and bravery in the face of terrible tragedy. Thank you for showing me and the whole world that there is hope.
Most commencement speakers, they’ll get up here and talk in the future tense. “You will succeed. You will make us proud. And you will change the world.” Most commencement speakers say, “You are the future.” But I’m not gonna say that, because you’re not the future. You’re the present. You are succeeding. You are making us proud. You are changing the world, so keep changing the world and keep making us proud.