How Seriously Should You Take Your Commencement Speaker?

Sean Levinson

For those of you set to graduate from college later this month, you’ll probably have to sit through a cliché commencement speech from a very successful speaker telling you that everything will be alright if you follow your dreams.

Virtually all commencement speakers tell students to follow their dreams, therefore this must be the surefire path to success, right?

You could believe that this is the case. Or you could take into account the idea of a survivor bias, or the fact that the only people who are chosen to speak at commencement ceremonies are in fact successful.

What these speakers won’t tell you is that even though the few people who get to make commencement speeches followed their dreams to success, there’s a much larger group of people who also followed their dreams, but didn’t get what they wanted.

For every rich senator or entrepreneur invited to talk about prosperity to a graduating class, there’s a hell of a lot of Amy’s Baking Companies out there who did exactly what these speakers told them to, but aren’t invited to share their downfall with you.

The survivor/selection bias is the same reason dating sites say they have a higher success rate than they actually do. They pretend that the lonely quitters who couldn’t find anybody left the site happy, and don’t tell you how high of a chance you have of ending up like them.

But this doesn’t mean that colleges shouldn’t invite successful people to speak, nor does it mean they should solely invite unsuccessful people to give students a frightening reality check before they’ve even had a shot at greatness.

The survivor bias just means that that maybe you should take what your commencement speaker says with a medium-sized grain of salt. Being highly successful is, of course, exceptional to say the least, but these people are most likely the exception rather than the rule.

We just want you all to follow your dreams, but also be mindful of how easy it is to screw up.

Via Business Insider, Photo Credit: Intraday Fun

Sean Levinson

Staff Writer

No Comments