Dear Graduating Class of 2023,

My name is Sean Dietrich. You don’t know who I am because you are young and you actually have a life.

Whereas I don’t have a life. Namely, because I am a professional writer, which means, among other things, that I live below the poverty line.

Well, okay, I don’t live “below” the poverty line, exactly. But I have spent a number of years surviving entirely on ramen noodles.

Which brings me to my first point: Do not major in English.

So when your principal called me a few weeks ago and asked me to give the commencement speech, I want you to know that, quite frankly, I was just as shocked as you are.

Even so, I’ve been asked to come up with poignant, life-changing remarks for young people, so that’s what I’m going to do.

Give me a second to make some up.

The first thing I want to tell you is to always obey your parents when they’re nearby. Your parents spent the first half of their lives cleaning up your excrement. You owe it to them.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying you should obey your parents because they’re smarter than you. I’m not even suggesting that your parents are particularly wise. Your parents might be complete dolts. Many parents are.

Which, of course, explains the current state of Little League baseball.

When I was a kid, Little League baseball games were played by 10-year-olds who were encouraged to manage their own ball game, get into fistfights, be rowdy, break bones, and sometimes chew Red Man that was stolen from their old man’s gloveboxes.

Today, Little League games are totally safe. Which is good, I suppose.

Kids today wear thick plastic helmets, sterilized protective gear, and antibacterial jockstraps. Kids do not get into fistfights. Instead, they learn about “conflict resolution” and how to “work through the issues.” Everyone gets a trophy. Whereupon everyone goes out and consumes fat-free ice cream sweetened with Stevia®.

The worst part about today’s Little League games is that, throughout each game, some parents are screaming at their children. Spittle flies from parents’ open mouths, and they shout like Marine drill instructors.

These adults are not having a good time. They are angry. They are competitive. These adults get into vicious arguments with the umpire. They follow their kids around the field, hurling obscenities at other parents, and just generally being obnoxious.

This is because many adults are, no offense, idiots.

The second thing I want to tell you is that it’s okay not to know what you’re going to be when you grow up. For starters, you’re still a kid. And kids are not supposed to know the answers. Actually, adults don’t know the answers, either. Refer back to the previous paragraph.

We adults are just as confused as you are, even though we won’t admit it.

The truth is, the only people who think they are smart, are the complete morons. Whereas the smart person KNOWS he or she is a complete moron.

So you cannot give a complete moron the responsibility of planning his or her own life. Especially when this moron is—no offense—18 years old.

Because life cannot be planned. Life changes you; you don’t change It.

So going to college is great fun, and probably beneficial. But it’s not everything. Because as I look around this auditorium, filled with many people I grew up with, I can tell you that 90 percent of your parents are not using their college degrees.

These parents are my age. We were born shortly after the Spanish-American War, we are technologically challenged, and we are totally incapable of figuring out how to apply electronic signatures to PDF files.

And yet we were of the generation where we were all forced to go to college and earn ambiguous degrees like business-education-sociology-communications management, and right now we are working at Target.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that 90 percent of the people in this auditorium work at Target. Most of them work at TJMaxx.

What I am saying is that life never, ever, EVER works out the way you think it will.

Instead, life comes in a series of cause-and-effect events. It’s a day-by-day thing. You can’t schedule it. You will not—no matter how hard you try—be able to check every box.

Life is spontaneous. Surprising. Chaotic. Sometimes frightening. Nonsensical. Ridiculous. Ironic. Magical.

You move with life like a canoe in a river. You get through one failure, and this leads to another pleasant disaster. You make one friend, and this person introduces you to new, exciting friends. Who will then, in turn, introduce you to newer, more exciting friends. And before you know it you’re getting a tattoo.

So it’s all right not to have an earthly clue what you want to do. It’s okay to simply sit back and see what life brings you. It’s okay to follow your heart.

In other words. It’s okay to major in English.

Just consider yourself warned.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to

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