I’m trying to learn to react with something other than awe whenever a brave Freshman Orientation Committee deep in Texas decides a pungent hircine odor during the normally dignified, be-gowned Convocation ceremonies is worth braving in the name of a Carbon-Neutral Message. That is to say, last week I was fortunate enough (and not just because of the stellar local barbecue technique) to give my second straight convocation address to 7,000 incoming freshmen and faculty at the University of Texas, Sam Antonio.
Last year I spoke of birthing goat kids and human ones. This time, the good folks down in Texas hill country asked me to offer a goat herder’s take on the almost certainly life-defining “Journey” (this year’s orientation theme for the UTSA Roadrunners) the incoming students would be taking, if in parking alone, as they began their college careers. What a way for a basketball arena full of teenagers to start their college career: listening to a goat herder expound passionately on the joys of meditation with ruminants.
Just a few days later, with woodpecker morse code closely mirroring my own Smartphone typing of these words mid-trail run this morning, I still have trouble believing that I’m allowed to say the things I generally say in my live events even once in a given venue. I mean, to me, they’re patriotic. So I guess that’s how I should look at it. Let me know what you think.
Below is that address, which was followed in the afternoon by my more conventional live event, and then enough local food to have me feeling what any sensible primate feels when in Texas: “Ya know, if Ann Richards just came out of retirement, this wouldn’t be such a bad State.”
Indeed, I think it worth noting that, even though the villain coyote in Farewell, My Subaru is named Dick Cheney, venues in Texas have booked my live event saga of carbon-neutral misadventures more than any other single state. And not just in Austin -â€“ I’ve performed at Texas Christian, Texas Tech and the University of Texas at Arlington, as well, this last on the same night that George W. Bush was giving a speech. And they always provide the barbecue. It’s not even on my rider. Here’s this year’s UTSA speech.
President Romo, Distinguished Educators, and Future Leaders of the World (Note: this sentence, my cowboy hat and my sole blazer are the only elements of the speech repeated from last year):
It’s such a distinct honor to be back here in Roadrunner country today that I’ve been talking about it for weeks. I think the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce needs to put me on retainer â€“ ever since my incredibly fun and educational visit here last year, I’ve progressively got the whole world believing San Antonio is our nation’s friendliest and most erudite city, and that UTSA is essentially the reason for that.
Before I continue, can I just get a quick update â€“ are all the freshman I spoke with last year leaders of the world yet? (examining audience, hand shading eyes). Ultimate Frisbee victories don’t count. No, really, c’mon people, hurry up, the country is going bankrupt. OK, all right, I’ll give those sophomores and your freshmen a couple more years. But I’ll be checking in. Pop quiz in 2015. (Oh, and that includes you, Undeclareds â€“ let me shout out to you guys up there in the nosebleeds, in particular â€“ I was one of you until I got a menacing letter from the Registrar late in my junior year. In many ways, I still am.)
The first thing you must keep in mind today is that the advice coming at you for the next few minutes derives from the beliefs of a goat herder who powers his Netflix on a few solar panels. Mark my words, people â€“ one day the Roadrunner Creed will mandate this. Yes, more on that questionable career decision at my talk later today. But I did graduate from college with honors and I am paying my mortgage. That is to say, I chose this level of smelliness and embarrassment when I put “shepherd” on my tax return and openly admit here to 7,000 people that I meditate with livestock.
So there’s today’s first piece of sage wisdom as you begin your college careers: Aristotle reminds us, when receiving advice, to always consider the source. Your source, today, ladies and gentleman, smells like Nubian goats. I try to wash it off, but I’m like Lady Macbeth: I show up to parties and the butler announces, “a Mr. Pan has arrived, Madam. Can I take your horns, sir?” Ah, well, like my roommate said to me when he woke well after a midterm of his had started. “I suppose there’s a price to be this happy.” (Don’t be late for your midterms people.) And one more thing about considering a source: please don’t believe what you hear in hate shouters on cable and in the Internet. Dig deeper and look for the truth in the information you consume.
And here’s something else to consider about this source. At least (stepping aside from podium and spreading arms), well, don’t I look happy? That should probably be the Number One question you ask yourself in the mirror each morning as you begin your journey here at fabulous UTSA: am I happy about what I get to do today?
Experience has taught me that your journey is likely to be a lot more personally rewarding and in fact successful in the real world if it’s fun for you. If you’ve ever met anyone who gripes about his or her job, did it make you want to have that job? Or, more specifically, I suggest, since we’re in an era of bottom-line “what’s in it for me” higher educational choices, choose a career that’s your calling. That you can’t believe you get paid to do. It’s win win. America wins, with a productive work force. You win because you’re this strange thing: Happy.
Part of that effort, I firmly believe, involves â€“ no, not goats, or at keast not just goats — Broad Educational Diversity. If you’re sure you want to be the person who finally develops that efficient, environmentally friendly battery that I could soooo use on my solar power set up at my ranch in neighboring New Mexico, also take some French literature classes, or medieval African history or something.
You won’t regret it. Believe me, it’ll make you a better battery engineer, even if just by making you thankful for what you didn’t major in. Don’t worry, literature and history majors: that logic works both ways. I sure remember my single computer science class fondly for that reason. Never again did I even consider going into software coding.
So make a habit of exploring something weird to you as you choose each semester’s class lineup. Strap on the intellectual SCUBA tank and dive in. Stretch. Anything educational you decide to explore now, no matter how outlandish — and by the way that same college roommate of mine took a course called The Magic of Colors â€“ you can dismiss years later at cocktail parties by saying, “Oh, I was only 19 at the time” or 22 or whatever.
Let me be clear, though: I’m not suggesting you can make such excuses with your personal life. You are legal adults, now. So make sure you follow the Golden Rule all the time. But educationally? Feel free to, ya know, bet on a long-shot now and then. Now’s your chance,
Back to what’s behind all of this, though: happiness, joy, and contentment while you’re undergoing the journey through UTSA, through the beginnings of your adult life. This can often be a multi-stage process. Step one: get over the freedom of eating as many cookies you want and watching the kind of reality shows that make your parents run for cover. Gorge if necessary, whatever it takes. Just get over these distractions.
Step Two: ask yourself, does my happiness entail daily meditation with smelly goats and near-electrocution by solar panels? â€“ I hope so, but perhaps not. Maybe you’ll even figure out that fully recyclable, hyper efficient battery system that weans our nation off petroleum once and for all. Can’t you tell how badly I want you to? I should offer some kind of X Prize for it â€“ a free week of goat milking on Doug Fine’s fabulous Funky Butte Ranch (all you can drink) if you save the world. Deadline December 21, 2012.
Speaking of being a rancher in the Digital Age: there’s nothing like getting a text message while milking a goat to remind a fellow how everything is inter-connected. And that’s the last thought I want to leave you folks with today, before you get on to this tough business of having a Happy Journey through this wonderful institution, city, hill country and nation: be aware that your educational journey here, those eventual career decisions that hopefully aren’t keeping you up at night and never will: they aren’t just about your first year salary or even your role as a functional member of our economy and society. It’s bigger even that that. Your decisions over these next two, four, eight years, will affect the farmer in Darfur, the Congressman in DC, every molecule of this very small planet.
No pressure, or anything. Just realize that where your own journey ends up and where humanity’s does are very likely to be one and the same. So choose well.
Mr. President, faculty, students and everyone here at amazing, cooler-every-year UTSA, my deepest thanks for the pleasure of returning here — next time I’m going to take a day or two extra off from all this blissful journeying, and do some river rafting around this gorgeous hill country that surrounds us here.
In the meantime, have a fun journey, Roadrunners. I’m sure I’ll be hearing great things about you down the road. And I hope you’ll be smiling at your invention press conference, X Prize award ceremony or kid’s kindergarten graduation. Because to me, the smiling? That’s success. Thank you very much for having me.
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