Some of the most inspirational and meme-worthy pieces of advice derive from an oft-ignored piece of literature: the commencement address. Graduation speeches are some of the best modern reads (especially as works to revisit at different ages), whether it be Steve Jobs’s famous “Stay hungry, stay foolish” kicker in his Stanford address in 2005, David Foster Wallace’s speech at Kenyon College on the grind of monotony that is much of adulthood, “This is Water” or Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 oration at Howard University, “To Fulfill These Rights,” wherein the president talked to HBC students about the need for affirmative action.
Mr. Playboy has yet to be invited to a dais draped in regal linens and crests, but that doesn’t mean our Rabbit doesn’t know a thing or two about how to be successful in life. Doing so is essentially part of our DNA. Thus, the editors at Playboy wanted to pull together some wisdom in-house, tailored for a generation that by 2020 will have more voting power than the previous.
The continuing challenges of being a twentysomething in 2017 are rampant, from paying off student loan debt to withstanding workplace politics to navigating our increasingly complicated (but always connected) world of human relationships. We don’t need to reemphasize that life can be hard—but we do want to remind you that it will also be a lot of fun, full of pleasure and personal wins. Remember to enjoy it all—and that fucking up is okay, too. As J.K. Rowling said at Harvard in 2008, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.”
DON’T TAKE LIFE TOO SERIOUSLY
Don’t take things too seriously. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t take rejection or other people’s opinions too seriously. The more time you devote to hypothesizing and analyzing what the world out there thinks of you, the more time you waste.
Few things will be the way you picture them, so don’t take your expectations too seriously either. Tell yourself how hot you are because it’s healthy to be a little full of yourself. Just a little. Cultivate your charisma. Don’t be a dick. Be polite to people. Relish the moment because it passes really fast. Don’t dwell on the past or fret about the future. Have fun—fun is very underrated—but if you try to have nothing but fun all the time, your life will turn to shit. So don’t do that.
Nothing ever really makes sense, at least not for long.
Find what makes you feel most exuberant, play up your strong suits, accept and make fun of your alleged faults, balance work with play and vice versa and most importantly, laugh a lot, every single day. Appreciate the fact that life is full of contradictions and highs and lows, some of which occur simultaneously. Nothing ever really makes sense, at least not for long, and that’s perfectly okay.—Anna del Gaizo, Senior Associate Editor
ON FUCKING UP
When you graduate, you’re being flung into a world for which you’re not prepared. The temptation is to say, “I won’t make the same mistakes my parents made, I won’t fail like everyone else and I’ll be a true prodigy in the field.”
That’s all great, but here’s what’s going to happen: You’re going to fuck up. A lot. And that’s totally fine. I’ve fucked up job interviews, relationships and even ordering lunch. The best advice I can give anyone is don’t try to hide your mistakes. Own them, learn from them and move forward as best you can. One day, you’ll discover the power of saying “I don’t know,” which is a terrifying thing to say in your first job, first post-college relationship or whatever. But if you can own not knowing and your mistakes, you’ll find people are pretty much willing to tell you what you did wrong and forgive you—unless you’re an asshole.—Michael Hafford, Entertainment Editor, Digital
YOU ARE A BRAND
Once you’re ready, wipe off the celebratory hangover and take a hard look at yourself. This includes the image you’re projecting on your social media accounts (yeah, even Snapchat). Would you hire you? Do you take yourself seriously? If the answer is even so much as a meh after a few scrolls through your Instagram, you need to work on your brand.
That’s right—you are one, even if your only followers include your mom and your dog. In creative fields like journalism, your social accounts will matter at some point, to some extent. Delete unsavory images. Go through your Twitter and make sure your political rants are PG. Try to change your social handles to your name, or at least something not questionable. (Mine used to be about my butt.) If it applies, link to your portfolio or website. This isn’t about becoming Insta-famous, but it is about not giving recruiters a reason not to give you a call. Prospective employers will only take you seriously if you take yourself seriously. —Nicole Theodore, Associate Editor
KNOW YOUR WORTH
I’m an artist, so my advice is more targeted to people in creative industries. If you’re working as a freelancer, never accept a rate lower than your true value. You’re not only cheating yourself, but you’ll also be setting the bar low and screwing your peers. Have dignity, and turn down jobs that are not worth your time. Also, if you studied something like art, know that your degree might mean nothing—at least not immediately. You’re probably going to work retail for a while. And if you’re an introverted artist but mad-talented, learn to awaken your social butterfly so you can network.—Jeremiah La Torre, Web Producer
MAKE BIG, SLOPPY MISTAKES
If you don’t allow yourself to make some giant, atrocious fuck-ups right after graduation, when will you be able to? When else in your entire life is it okay to move across the country for a romance or a whim, or spend your savings on a car to take an ill-advised road trip? When else are you going to be able to say you hitchhiked across the Rockies and fell in love with a bartender in Austin? It’s okay to work at a bar, wash dishes and do something entirely unrelated to your schoolwork for a few years while you figure out what the heck is next. Be a disaster. Now is the time. —Leila Brillson, Executive Editor, Digital
You’re going to be okay. Take deep breaths. Buy some crystals, if you’re into that. Learn how to sit still in your body and feel calm instead of crazy. Landing the best job or getting the hottest girl to like you or even smoking the best pot is not guaranteed to make you feel okay 100 percent of the time, because life is life and happy endings aren’t real (except at certain massage parlors). There is no destination. So learn how to be okay here and now, because as any competent New Age philosopher or self-help book will tell you, now is all you have, forever.—Maya Harris, Senior Photo Editor, Digital
ON EGO (AND REVENGE)
Don’t confine yourself to the narcissism and egos of those whom you have to keep convincing yourself are your friends. If you’re feeling what I felt around graduation, the primary emotion is fear. You will fear the changes you must make to your life. You will fear having to strike out more on your own.
But in these fears lies an opportunity that wasn’t necessarily possible in college. You are at last liberated from a place wherein a persistent identity followed you everywhere: the identity of being a student. Like the greatest sleep-away summer camp in history, post-graduation is a time you can actually be whomever you want. People will attempt to put you into boxes the same way they did at school. They will try to tell you that you don’t know enough. They will try to shut you up because everybody wants to feel like they know more than those younger than them.
Now, you have a chance to show haters what you are made of—the best possible chance of proving those people wrong. There is nothing wrong with turning a thirst for ego-driven revenge into motivation for clinching your dreams. If you listened to everyone who demanded your humility, you wouldn’t have a single piece of yourself left—or worth holding onto.—Cole Sadler, Junior Editor, Digital
ON LOVE AND SEX
Sex is never just sex. At some point in your life, sex will hurt you. At other times, sex will energize you. But you don’t get to decide. The blood that pumps to your heart is the same blood pumping to your sex organs. As dismissive or detached you might want to be at times, get over yourself. There’s nothing stoic about acting like sex has no meaning. No one walks away from it unscathed.
You don’t get to choose how sex makes you feel, or when, or why.
If you have a fuck buddy, one day that fuck buddy will move to a different city. Or she’ll find a real boyfriend. Or she’ll decide you’re no longer good enough—that the new guy at work is taller, hotter, bigger, more exciting or maybe just more sincere. And even though she was “just” a fuck buddy, it will hurt.
But that’s the beautiful thing about sex: it will always remind us how we feel—that we can feel. For every drunken mistake or toxic sexual encounter, there will be another capable of erasing it: the first time you sleep with someone you actually like, and then the second time. The first time you have make-up sex, when you get laid on your birthday or when your girlfriend returns from her business trip. When you say “I love you” and she says it back. These encounters can make us forget our past and remember why we even bother playing the game. But you don’t get to choose how it makes you feel, or when, or why. You only get to decide whether you let both the good and the bad define you.
Finally: People aren’t held enough. So when someone is in your bed, hold him or her for a few minutes. No kissing, nibbling or foreplay. They won’t remember you as just another one-night stand, even if that’s what they were looking for when you found each other. They’ll remember you as human.—Shane Michael Singh, Senior Editor
My graduation took place in May 2004, a little more than a year after we went to war with Iraq and a month after word had gotten out about the atrocities at Abu Ghraib. This was in New York, which hadn’t yet endured the third anniversary of 9/11. Ted Sorensen, a former JFK adviser who was our keynote speaker, started by telling us that he would not be giving a speech: “Two weeks ago I set aside the speech I prepared. This is a cry from the heart, a lamentation for the loss of this country’s goodness and therefore its greatness.”
We live in very different times, under a very different president, but the question of America’s greatness seems somehow more urgent and divisive now than it was at the outset of a long, multi-front and still unresolved war. Sorensen’s not-a-speech (you can read the whole thing here) was shot through with ideas that could just as easily fill auditoriums this graduation season—like the belief that a nation can actually be great without being arrogant, and that giving in to xenophobic fears doesn’t just make us look bad; it makes us less safe.
But the most resonant passage was the last one. Here it is, unchanged except for the year; now it’s yours.
“The good news, to relieve all this gloom, is that a democracy is inherently self-correcting. Here, the people are sovereign. Inept political leaders can be replaced. Foolish policies can be changed. Disastrous mistakes can be reversed.
"When, in 1941, the Japanese Air Force was able to inflict widespread death and destruction on our naval and air forces in Hawaii because they were not on alert, those military officials most responsible for ignoring advance intelligence were summarily dismissed. When, in the late 1940s, we faced a global Cold War against another system of ideological fanatics certain that their authoritarian values would eventually rule the world, we prevailed in time. We prevailed because we exercised patience as well as vigilance, self-restraint as well as self-defense, and reached out to moderates and modernists, to democrats and dissidents, within that closed system. We can do that again.
"We can reach out to moderates and modernists in Islam, proud of its long traditions of dialogue, learning, charity and peace. Some among us scoff that the war on Jihadist terror is a war between civilization and chaos. But they forget that there were Islamic universities and observatories long before we had railroads.
"So do not despair. In this country, the people are sovereign. If we can but tear the blindfold of self-deception from our eyes and loosen the gag of self-denial from our voices, we can restore our country to greatness. In particular, you—the Class of 2017—have the wisdom and energy to do it. Start soon.
"In the words of the ancient Hebrews: ‘The day is short, and the work is great, and the laborers are sluggish, but the reward is much, and the Master is urgent.’”—James Rickman, Executive Editor