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The commencement speech I would have given (if Winona State had asked)

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President Olson, distinguished faculty, families and class of 2015 graduates, my name is Arik Hanson and I am an independent marketing consultant and a graduate of the class of 1996.

I am your 2015 commencement speaker.

Apparently, the other 5,421 grads from 1996 as well as pretty much everyone else that graduated between 1997-2014 was unavailable for today’s event. So, you’re stuck with me.

WSU Grad

But, believe me, you won’t be disappointed because I have prepared a speech today that will have you LOLing and tweeting every other line because you’re feeling so damn inspired.

And, I based in entirely off a story I read in NPR.

See, this is one of the first things you’ll learn when you leave here today: There are no original ideas. There are only people who steal ideas!

And today, I’m stealing from NPR because people who work at NPR are very, very smart. And I am, well, I’m an independent marketing consultant.

Here goes.

NPR’s first piece os sage advice: Be funny.

See, I’m screwed right off the bat. I’m not funny. Never have been. In fact, I’m the guy who laughs at the funny guy. I’m the funny guy’s best friend. So, being funny just isn’t going to work for me. But see, I discovered that early in my adult life. I figured out I wasn’t funny. I couldn’t make people laugh. Heck, I can’t even make my 10-year-old son laugh right now and he basically still worships his Dad. But, you see, there’s a lesson here. I’m not funny. I know that now. And, knowing what you are–and what you aren’t–is an important thing. Because trying to be funny all the time can be exhausting. It can drain you of your true energy. Energy that you’ll need to pursue your dreams. So stop trying to be so damn funny!

Number two: Make fun of yourself.

On the flip side,I’ve been making fun of myself since I was about 12 years old. I pretty much had to since 1) I wasn’t all that smart, 2) I wasn’t all that attractive, and 3) I wasn’t all that funny. But, self-depricating humor? That, I could pull off, thanks to oodles of material. And, that’s really never changed. I play the self-deprication card often when meeting new people–in meetings, over coffee, at a Twins game. It’s one of my go-to moves, to be honest. It works because it softens you up to those around you. But, it also plays a vital role for you: It keeps your ego in check. Humility is one the key characteristics of almost every successful person I know. I’m talking about people you really admire–not LeBron James or Bill Gates. XXXXX

OK, number three: Downplay the genre.

Everyone always says you’ll never remember much about your commencement speaker. I say that’s hogwash! I’m willing to bet you’ll remember me for a good 10-15 seconds after this event! After all, I’m an independent marketing consultant! I patterned my speech based on an NPR article! I followed a can’t-miss playbook! I shall be remembered!

Number four: You must have a message.

So, I’m going to steal even MORE ideas. Hey, maybe that should be one of my messages: ALWAYS STEAL IDEAS!

I have three quotes I think outline three key messages I’d like to impart to you today.

“People talk about getting lucky breaks in their careers. I’m living proof that the ‘lucky breaks’ theory is simply wrong. You get to make your own luck. … The world is run by those who show up…not those who wait to be asked.” —Steve Blank, Philadelphia University, 2011

I used to believe in the “lucky break” notion, too. Except, I thought I was the victim of NOT receiving any lucky breaks. Why did I have such bad luck, I thought? Why was the world against me? Why didn’t I just fall into these great jobs that my other friends were getting? Then, it kinda dawned on me. You need to make your own luck. You need to create your own change. You need to STEAL MORE IDEAS (no, Arik, wrong message–stay on point here). Over the years, I’ve come around to Mr. Blank’s way of thinking: There is no luck. There are only people who show up. Be someone who shows up. Every. Single. Day.

“You are now entering a world that’s filled to the brim with idiots. Since there are so many idiots out there, you actually may start to think you’re crazy. You are not. They are idiots.”–Lewis Black

For YEARS, I’ve been meeting with students. Speaking at classes (including many here at Winona State). Grabbing coffee with students. Allowing kids to job-shadow me for a day. And, over those years, the number of students who really stand out–I mean truly stand out–I can count on one hand. Lewis Black, unfortunately, was right. The world is full of mediocrity. And, because of that, I would argue it’s easier than ever to stand out from the crowd. It just takes a lot of hard work. And, people don’t want to put in hard work anymore. They want things easy. If you’re not afraid to put in the time and effort to get what you want, you will succeed.

“As you start your journey, the first thing you should do is throw away that store-bought map and begin to draw your own.” —Michael Dell, CEO, Dell Computers, University of Texas at Austin, 2003

When I graduated in 1996, a fellow grad of mine had it all planned out. I mean, she had her whole life locked down. She was going to be a VP by 30. She was going to have twin girls by 28. I’m telling you, she had it LOCKED DOWN! But, then something funny happened. Life happened. She got side-tracked. Thrown a couple curveballs she chased into the dirt. Then, life threw her a high-and-tight fastball that knocked her down flat on her ass. Her plan was kaput. But, she started to form a new plan–one that was better than the first because it was based on where she was going. Not where she thought she had to go. There’s a big difference. If you would have told me that by the time I was 42 I’d be a successful independent marketing consultant who’s keynoted conferences, earned top-billing as a national blogger, and earned more money than he could have possibly imagined as a 22-year-old, I would have said you were crazy. My life took some unexpected turns. Not everything out the way I planned it. And that’s OK. In fact, I kinda like that. I like how sometimes I don’t know what’s around the corner. I like that I don’t know what’s coming at me next (even if it might be scary). I’ve come to accept that I simply don’t have that much control over my life.

This gift you’ve been given, life, it’s a ride. And, you’re among the very fortunate who now have a college education. You have a chance to do what so few in this world can. Anything you want.

Make the most of that opportunity. And remember: ALWAYS STEAL THOSE IDEAS!

Note: Photo courtesy of Winona State University.

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The commencement speech I would have given (if Winona State had asked)

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