University of Virginia, 2013
If you young folks will take advice from anyone, after all, I don’t know if you’ve seen it. This week’s Time Magazine called you “lazy, entitled narcissists,” who are part of the “Me, Me, Me” generation. So self-obsessed, tweeting your Vines, hashtagging your Spotifys and Snapchatting your YOLOs — your generation needs everything to be about you.
And that’s very upsetting to us baby boomers because self-absorption is kind of our thing. We’re the original “Me Generation,” we made the last 50 years all about us. We took all the money. We soaked up all the government services. And we’ve deep-fried nearly everything in the ocean. It may seem that all that’s left for you is unpaid internships, Monday to Tuesday mail delivery, and thanks to global warming, soon Semester at Sea will mean sailing the coast of Ohio.
Now, in our defense, in my generation’s defense – how were we supposed to know that you were coming? We thought it went like this: every successive generation of mankind – and then us! Ta-dah – roll credits.
Watch Colbert’s Wake Forest speech at go.wfu.edu/wfu15
Northwestern University, 2011
You have been told to follow your dreams. But — what if it’s a stupid dream? For instance Stephen Colbert of 25 years ago lived at 2015 North Ridge — with two men and three women — in what I now know was a brothel. He dreamed of living alone — well, alone with his beard — in a large, barren loft apartment — lots of blond wood — wearing a kimono, with a futon on the floor, and a samovar of tea constantly bubbling in the background, doing Shakespeare in the street for the homeless.
Today, I am a beardless, suburban dad who lives in a house, wears no-iron khakis, and makes Anthony Wiener jokes for a living. And I love it. Because thankfully dreams can change. If we’d all stuck with our first dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses.
So whatever your dream is right now, if you don’t achieve it, you haven’t failed, and you’re not some loser. But just as importantly — and this is the part I may not get right and you may not listen to — if you do get your dream, you are not a winner.
Knox College, 2006
Well, you are about to start the greatest improvisation of all. With no script. No idea what’s going to happen, often with people and places you have never seen before. And you are not in control. So say “yes.” And if you’re lucky, you’ll find people who will say “yes” back.
Now will saying “yes” get you in trouble at times? Will saying “yes” lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes it will. But don’t be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics.
Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no.
But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes.”