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Stephen Colbert Offers Grads Some Key Advice: 'Pave Your Own Path'

May 20, 2013
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/228983

Editor’s Note: With the 2013 graduation season in full swing, YoungEntrepreneur.com is culling the top tips and advice from commencement addresses given by some of the world’s most inspiring leaders. Stay tuned for more from this year’s commencement circuit.

Emmy Award-winning satirist Stephen Colbert took the stage this past Saturday to address his wife’s alma mater, the University of Virginia.

After flashing a cover of Time magazine depicting the current millennial generation of graduates as narcissistic, entitled and lazy, Colbert stated it was actually his generation, the baby boomers, who are self-absorbed.

"We are 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 deep fried nearly everything in the ocean," says Colbert. "You do not owe the previous generation anything. How you live your life is up to you."

Because the exact route isn’t perfectly laid out, as was the case for previous generations, it is up to graduates to pave their own path and live on their terms, he added. Here are the three main takeaways from Colbert's commencement speech:

1. You are responsible for cultivating the society you want to live in.
There is no secret society out there that will tap you on the shoulder one night and show you the way. The true secret is your life will not be defined by the society that we have left you. It is up to you about how you want this world to exist.

To paraphrase English playwright Robert Bolt, society has no more idea of what you are than you do, because ultimately, it only has your brains to think with. Every generation must define itself and make the world that suits itself.

Related: Melinda Gates on the Power of Technology in Making Human Connections

2. Create the life you want to live.
While we may be leaving you an economy with fewer job opportunities for the new graduate to slip into and traditional paths may seem harder to find, this also means you may learn sooner than most generations the hard lesson that you must always make the path for yourself.

Have the courage to follow the example of your founder Thomas Jefferson, the greatest mind of that most daring generation, to create something new for yourselves and lay its foundation on such principles and organize its powers in such form, as to you shall seem most likely to affect your safety and happiness. And knowing that he wrote these words 237 years ago, this generation no less than his generation has their own opportunity to recognize and seize that moment, when in the course of human events it becomes necessary.

Related: 10 Entrepreneurship Lessons College Didn't Teach New Grads

3. Choose the more difficult route.
If you must find your own path and we have left you no easy path, than decide now to choose the hard path that leads to the life and the world that you want. And don’t worry if we don’t approve of your choices. In our benign self-absorption, I believe we have given you a gift, a particular form of independence, because you do not owe the previous generation anything.

What are the biggest advantages and disadvantages do you think recent graduates face as they head out into the real world? Let us know in the comments below.

This is an edited excerpt from Stephen Colbert's 2013 commencement address. For the full, unedited speech, watch below.