Honored principal, dedicated faculty and hopeful soon-to-be graduates, it’s a privilege to be here before you today at your commencement. I’ll be brief — not because this isn’t 1960, when an hour-long speech was a requirement at high school graduations, but because what I have to say to you is very simple. First off, I want you to notice this big question mark I’m wearing on my academic robe. No, I’m not trying to emulate that TV guy hawking a book on how to get money from the U.S. government. What the question mark means is that you only think you know what’s in store for you. Ever hear the saying “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans”? So you’re going on to college, and maybe grad school, and a solid education will make everything nice and smooth for you? Hah! Economic and political changes even Nostradamus wouldn’t foresee could make your degree and your career plans almost irrelevant four years from now. Look at the experience of engineers in the 1970s, or teachers in the 1980s. “Hot” degrees became albatrosses around people’s necks. There were jokes about Ph.D.s driving cabs. But we adapted, sometimes at great pain, and that’s our lesson to you. Assume nothing, and be ready for anything. So you’re going into the workforce, or maybe the military? Again: Hah! Read up on your field, especially after that first promotion, and get ready for the day when things just don’t work out. The factory could close; the Defense Department could suffer massive budget cuts. So adapt and try again, like Abe Lincoln looking for a general who could win a battle, or like the Wright Brothers who worked for years to get a plane off the ground. Did they throw in the towel or start griping the first time things didn’t go their way? Now does the question mark make sense? Here’s my second point. Look at what I’m holding. It’s a certificate they just gave you that says “Hey, you’re great.” Now watch while I tear it up and toss it on the floor. Want to know why I did that? Almost as soon as you walk out that door at the far end of the auditorium you’ll start meeting other people who have just as many “honors,” or even more. One of the things I distrust about modern graduations is the honors overload. Nearly everybody gets an award, a trophy — something. In 30 minutes most of those honors won’t mean anything. Huge numbers of other young people in other places are also getting them today. Instead, once the party is over, ask yourself some questions. Did I do my job well? Do I realize I still have tons of things to learn? Will I respect the role models and mentors who guide me along the way? Will I be fair to my colleagues and my family, who depend on me? Fulfilling your “yes” and “I’ll try” answers will show if you’re an honorable person. Nobody can tear that up and throw it on the floor. Well, I promised I wouldn’t speak for an hour. By the way, I know you want to get out of here, but I guarantee that in a few decades you’ll be breaking down the doors to get back in and see the old place. Bandleader, strike up the recessional. Two-thousand-and-twelve, here we come! Tom Mooney is a Times Leader columnist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.