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BUTLER UNIVERSITY
With a campus in the heart of Indianapolis, Butler University is a nationally recognized university encompassing six colleges: Arts, Business, Communication, Education, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Pharmacy & Health Sciences. Schedule your tour of campus today!

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LEARN MORE
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[BU President James Danko] New York Times bestselling author John Green is making a positive impact on a new generation through his books, his educational videos, blogs, and social media. While John's books have been written primarily for a young adult audience, they have been appreciated by young and old alike, and now been published in more than a dozen languages.

His latest novel, The Fault in Our Stars, was Time magazine's #1 fiction book of the year in 2012, and will soon be made into a film by 20th Century Fox. John's other bestselling books include Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns. He was the 2006 recipient of the Michael L. Printz Award, the 2009 Edgar Award, and has twice been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

In addition to his literary success, John and his brother Hank, have become cultural icons through vlogbrothers, and exchange YouTube video blogs between the two of them since 2007. The vlogbrothers channel has received over 300 million views, and has created a worldwide community of people called "nerdfighters" - Any out there? [some cheers] - who celebrate intellectualism, empathy or others, and social justice.

John and Hank have also recently started offering open, online education, through a YouTube channel called CrashCourse. Hank teaches science, while John teaches Literature, US History, and World History. John performed "An Evening of Awesome" to a sold-out crowd at Carnegie Hall in January 2013, and appeared on the "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" in March 2013.

While John's professional success has been nothing short of astronomical, more importantly, he is committing to using his success to making the world a better place. He truly represents the ideals of Butler University.

John is an alumnus of Kenyon College, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in English and Religious Studies. John, would you please come forward. [applause]

At the recommendation of the faculty, with the approval of the Butler University Board of Trustees, and by the authority vested in me, I confer upon you, John Green, the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities thereto. [applause]

[John] Good morning. It's going to take me a minute to unfold this. Thank you, President Danko. Those are the first words of my speech.

My own commencement speaker, who shall remain nameless, began his speech with a lame joke about how these gigs only come in two varieties: short and bad. And that raised my expectations tremendously, and then he went onto speak for 26 minutes, so I’m just going to tell you right now: 12 minutes flat, 11:45 if you don’t laugh. [laughter]

I do want to congratulate to everyone who's here today, and I do mean everyone — parents, families, friends, professors, coaches. Every single person in Hinkle today has given something to make this moment possible for the class of 2013 — except for me. But everyone else has.

I want to wish special congratulations to you graduates today. Before we get to the Life Advice You Will Soon Forget portion of the program, I want to engage in a time-honored tradition of American commencement addresses: that is, stealing from other commencement addresses, in this case one by the children’s television host Mr. Fred Rogers.

I want you to spend one minute, which I know is an eternity in the age of the Internet, but I want you to spend one minute, if you will, thinking of some of the people who helped get you to today, people who’ve loved you and without whose care and generosity you might not have found yourself here, graduating from Butler, or watching someone you love graduate, or seeing your students graduate. Think for one minute of those who have loved us up into this day. I’ll keep the time.

[1 minute of silence]

Those people are so proud of you today.

I want to return to them soon, but first I have to deliver terrible news, which is that you are all going to die. [laughter] This is another time-honored tradition of American celebration, the Raining on the Parade. [laughter] I remember when I got married, the priest devoted most of his homily to telling me how challenging and laborious and often miserable marriage would be, and I kept thinking, “That seems like something that could wait for tomorrow!” [laughter]

But no, it can't! You are going to die! Not only that; it gets worse. Everything you ever make and think and experience will be washed away by the sands of time. The Sun will blow up and no one will remember Cleopatra ruling Egypt, or Crick and Watson untangling the structure of DNA, or Ptolemy fathoming the stars, or even that improbably wonderful game against Gonzaga. [laughter]

So that’s unfortunate. [laughter]

But I would argue that it’s good to be aware of temporariness on a day like today, when you are thinking about what you want to do with your life. The whole idea of this commencement speech is that I’m supposed to offer you some thoughts on how you might live a good life out there in the so-called Real World, which by the way I assure you is no more or less real than the ones in which you have so far found yourselves.

But I can’t give any advice about how to live a good life unless and until we establish what constitutes a good life. Of course, that’s much of what you’ve been up to for the past four or five years, or six, whether you've been studying dance or literature, and I’m not going to swoop in here at the end with any interesting revelations. I just want to note that the default assumption is that the point of human life is to be as successful as possible, to acquire lots of fame or glory or money as defined by quantifiable metrics, like number of twitter followers, or Facebook friends, or dollars in one’s 401k. Which is a thing that you don't know about yet, but it's coming. [laughter]

That's the hero’s journey, right? The hero starts out with no money and ends up with a lot of it. The hero starts out an ugly duckling and becomes a beautiful swan, or starts out an awkward girl and becomes a vampire mother [laughter], or grows up an orphan living under the staircase and then becomes the wizard who saves the world [cheers]. We are taught that the hero’s journey is the journey from weakness to strength.

But I am here today to tell you that those stories are wrong. The real hero’s journey is the journey from strength to weakness.

And here is the good news nested inside of the bad news: Many of you, most of you, are about to make that journey. You will go from being the best-informed, most engaged students at one of the finest universities around, to being, if you are lucky, the person who brings coffee to people. Or you might be a Steak n' Shake waiter, as I once was. Whether you’re a basketball player or a pharmacist or a software designer, you’re about to be a rookie.

Your parents’ long-asked questions — what exactly does one DO with a degree in anthropology — will become a matter of sudden and profound relevance in your life. [laughter] Your student loans will come due and you will have a hard time... Your student loans will come due and you will need a very good answer for why exactly you went to college, which answer you will have a hard time coming by as you sit at your job, provided you are lucky enough to find a job, and suffer the indignity of people calling you by the wrong name, or, if you are forced to wear a name tag, the indignity of people calling you by the right name too often.

And that is the true hero’s errand — the journey from strength to weakness. And because you went to Butler, you will be more alive to the experience, you will be better able to contextualize it and maybe even find the joy and wonder hidden amid the dehumanizing drudgery. For example, when I graduated from college, I worked for a while as a data entry professional, and I would often call to mind William Faulkner’s brilliant letter of resignation from the United States Postal Service, which went like this:
 
As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp.

This, sir, is my resignation.

William Faulkner


Now, having read that letter in a Faulkner biography in college had nothing to do with my job typing numbers into a database, but it was still profoundly useful to me. Education provides context, and it provides comfort, and it provides access, no matter the relationship between your field of study and the trajectory of your post-collegiate life.

But still, you are probably going to be a nobody for a while. You are going to make that journey from strength to weakness, and while it probably won’t be an easy trip, it is a heroic one. For in learning how to be a nobody, you will learn how not to be a jerk. And for the rest of your life, if you are able to remember your hero’s journey from college grad to underling, you will be less of a jerk. You will tip well. You will empathize. You will be a mentor, and a generous one. In short, you will become like the people you imagined in silence a few minutes ago.

And let me submit to you that this is the actual definition of a good life. You want to be the kind of person who other people — people who may not even born yet — will think about in their own silences years from now at their own commencements. I am going to hazard a guess that relatively few of us closed our eyes and thought of all the work and love that Selena Gomez or Justin Bieber put into making this moment possible for us. [laughter]

We may be taught that the people to admire and emulate are actors and musicians and sports heroes and professionally famous people, but when we look at the people who have helped us, the people who actually change actual lives, relatively few of them are publicly celebrated. We do not think of the money they had, but of their generosity. We do not think of how beautiful or powerful they were, but how willing they were to sacrifice for us — so willing, at times, that we might not have even noticed they were making sacrifices.

So with that in mind, I’d like to share a few pieces of what I believe to be rock solid advice about like proper adulthood:

First, and perhaps most importantly, don't worry too much about your lawn. [laughter] You will soon find that almost every adult American devotes tremendous time and energy to the maintenance of an invasive plant species called turf grass that we cannot eat. I think you should choose a better obsession.

Also, you may have heard that it is better to burn out than it is to fade away. That is ridiculous. It is much better to fade away. Always. Fade. Away. [laughter]

And keep reading. Specifically, read my books, ideally in hardcover. [laughter] But also keep reading other books. You have probably figured out by now that education isn't really about grades or getting a job: it’s primarily about becoming a more aware and engaged observer of the universe. And if that ends with college, you’re rather wasting your one and only known chance at consciousness.

Also a word about the Internet: Old people like myself are terrified by their ignorance of the Internet, and you should use that to your advantage. You should say things... You should say things at your job like, “You don’t have a Tumblr? Oh you should really have a Tumblr. I can set you up with that.”

Try not to worry so much about what you are going to do with your life. You are already doing what you are going to do with your life, and judging by the fact that you are wearing a gown, you’re doing pretty well. That's not a sentence you hear much in life.

On that topic, there are many more jobs out there than you have ever heard of. And in fact, your dream job might not even exist yet. If you had told College Graduate Me that I would become a professional YouTuber, I would’ve been like, “Hmm, that doesn't seem like a word.” [laughter]

And lastly, I want to encourage you to be vigilant in the struggle toward empathy. A couple years after I graduated from college, I was living in an apartment in Chicago with four friends, one of whom was this Kuwaiti guy named Hassan, and when the U.S. invaded Iraq, Hassan lost touch with his family, who lived on the border, for like six weeks. By the way, some of you have heard me tell this story before, but I have a microphone, you're seated, and so you're going to listen to the rest of it.

So my friend Hassan responded to this stress by watching cable news coverage of the war 24 hours a day. And the only way to hang out with Hassan was to sit on the couch and watch the news with him, and so one day we were watching the news and the CNN anchor was like, “We’re getting new footage from the city of Baghdad,” and a camera panned across a house that had a huge hole in one wall covered by a piece of plywood. And on the plywood was Arabic graffiti scrawled in black spray paint, and the news anchor started to talk about the anger on the Arab street, and Hassan started laughing for the first time in weeks.

I said, “What’s so funny?”

He said, “The graffiti.”

I said, “What’s funny about it?”

And he looked at it and he smiled, and he said, “It says, Happy Birthday, Sir, Despite the Circumstances.” [laughter]

For the rest of your life, you are going to have a choice about how to read graffiti in a language you do not know, and you will have a choice about how to read the actions and intonations of the people you meet. And I would encourage you as often as possible to consider the Happy Birthday Sir Despite the Circumstances possibility, the possibility that the lives and experiences of others are as complex and unpredictable as your own, that other people — be they family or strangers, near or far — are not simply one thing or the other — not simply good or evil or wise or ignorant — but that they, like you, contain multitudes, to borrow a phrase from the great Walt Whitman.

This is difficult to do — it is difficult to remember that people with lives different and distant from your own even celebrate birthdays, let alone with gifts of graffitied plywood. You will always be stuck inside of your body, with your consciousness, seeing through the world through your own eyes, but the gift and challenge of your Butler education is to see others as they see themselves, to grapple meaningfully with this cruel and crazy and beautiful world in all its baffling complexity.

I know that we have not left you with the easiest path, I know, but I have every confidence in you, and I wish you a very happy graduation, despite the circumstances.

Thank you.