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Godspeed

Sunday is graduation day for undergraduates at the University of Rochester, and it also marks the completion of my fourth year here as well. Thank you to the dozens upon dozens of terrific students who have made the last 4 years a far richer experience than my very own 4 years of college. I promised myself I would not write many paragraphs of platitudinous puff and I’ll stick to it. A few parting thoughts for you should you choose to listen:

  1. Be humble (yet confident)
  2. You’re never ever going to figure out “what you want to do with your life” …
  3. Remember the margin. Always.
  4. Your character matters more than your brain-power and you often do not get a do over if you do damage to the former (or latter?)
  5. Read more.
  6. Do not let your life be defined by your politics, on either side of the aisle.
  7. If you are wrong about something, it’s not the end of the world.
  8. If you are always right, you probably are not trying hard enough.
  9. You don’t have a problem with “religion” or “government” or “Republicans” or “Democrats” or “them” or …. you have a problem with individuals who have abandoned reason and truth. You have a problem with individuals. As such, there is no perfect institution, nor is “free-market paradise” sure to produce anything resembling a “utopia”
  10. Be intellectually honest. Avoid the the myriad logical fallacies and do not waste your own or other people’s time if you are not honest about what you are really talking about.
  11. Be intellectually consistent.
  12. There is no objective way to settle what ultimately are differences in values. If Johnny has a preference for apple pie and you have a preference for Fig Newtons, there is no “right” preference. (This requires some additional assumptions).
  13. Learn to say no.
  14. Not everyone can handle a good economic argument and not everyone wants to hear it.
  15. Your whole life is a job interview.

UPDATE: Added two more, one thanks to a dedicated student …

16. Be forgiving

17. If you want flexibility, avoid large fixed costs. But a 20% smaller house than you think you want. Of course, sometimes it makes sense to incur large fixed costs – but don’t do that for consumption purposes, do it for investment purposes.

Well, I suppose there are many more. Maybe we should come up with a Golden Rule for college graduation advice? Any single sentence candidates? As a parting “gift” I encourage you guys to listen to a couple of my favorite songs. Cheesy, I know. But I find a lot in them, and I hope you do too.

Bob Seger: The Fire Inside. Here are the lyrics.


David Wilcox: Someday Soon


David Wilcox: Hold It Up to the Light

No video – but the song is here, with an appropriate introduction.

Cheryl Wheeler: Further and Further Away. Lyrics Here.

Bruce Springsteen. I was born and raised on Bruce, and the following two songs from his second and third albums respectively were written right when I was born. They are fantastic musical compositions, vivid stories and perhaps there’s something in there for you too. They are long, but that never stopped me from wanting to cue each of them up time after time after time.

Song #1: Incident on 57th Street

Song #2: Jungleland. Here is the studio version.

Here is one good live version.


Richard Shindell: I Saw My Youth Today (can’t find a version online 🙁 )

Shawn Colvin covering the Talking Heads’ This Must Be the Place



8 Responses to “Godspeed”

  1. Student says:

    Obviously this list can go on for a very long time and I think you’ve included many important points; however, there is one thing missing that really stood out to me and that is that we should learn to “be forgiving.”

  2. It is a rite of passage. Putting yourself in their place is helpful all the way around. What advice would I wish I had taken, had it been given when I did not ask for it? One thing about the ceremony for me was the presence of my professors. Too few attend. After a few years, they lose their enthusiasm for it, I suppose. And for that reason, I was honored by those senior faculty who came to see us graduate.

  3. Rod says:

    A funny story about my college commencement —

    My mother was sitting in front of another mother who was talking to an aunt in the same family. She was looking forward to life after tuition when she said to her sister, “The first thing we do is buy rugs!”

  4. Christina Cordell says:

    Thanks for a great four years of classes!

  5. cmprostreet says:

    Since graduation I’ve been surprised that the most valuable answer in my career has been “I don’t know.”*

    *This response must be followed by:
    1) But I will find out and get back to you by ____
    2) A confidence level on my best estimate, and that I will check it
    3) Why it can never be known
    or 4) Who does know and how to contact them

  6. J Roach says:

    Great post! I love 9 and 14 in particular. They should be emphasized more often.

  7. Harry says:

    I am touched by Wintercow’s message to his students. That would make a great commencement address. Wintercow will miss them. You will be in their heart, Mike.

  8. Since graduating 2 years ago point 14 seems to be the most salient.  Outside of my group of friends most of whom were economics or natural science majors, its seems the vast majority of people I've met post graduation are not interested in thinking through their position and following their logic where ever it leads.   

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