Congratulations to the Harvard Class of 2012 (especially Alexa Stern)! While today’s Commencement is the conventional day for words of wisdom, Harvard tradition precedes it with ‘Class Day’ which is a chance for a bit of fun and perhaps ‘unconventional’ wisdom. Yesterday’s speakers included Andy Samberg as well as a humorous and insightful ‘Alumini Speaker’ Barney Frank.

Barney Frank shares his own failure which led not only led to him dropping out of graduate school and abandoning his career as an academic, but led to his stellar career as a politician. He puts it all down to the following “We all have characteristics. They can be strengths in one context and a weakness in another…I had one characteristic that was a drawback in an academic, but a great advantage in a politician. I have a very short attention span.”

Charles Wheelan’s “10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You” has a few very unconventional gems of his own to share with any graduating class…

  1. Your time in fraternity basements was well spent.
  2. Some of your worst days lie ahead.
  3. Don’t make the world worse
  4. Marry someone smarter than you are
  5. Help stop the Little League arms race.
  6. Read obituaries
  7. Your parents don’t want what is best for you.
  8. Don’t model your life after a circus animal.
  9. It’s all borrowed time.
  10. Don’t try to be great.

#2 is the most dramatic embrace of failure (but you have to give a nods ‘Don’t try to be great’ as well as ‘Marry someone smarter than you are’)…

  • “2. Some of your worst days lie ahead. Graduation is a happy day. But my job is to tell you that if you are going to do anything worthwhile, you will face periods of grinding self-doubt and failure. Be prepared to work through them. I’ll spare you my personal details, other than to say that one year after college graduation I had no job, less than $500 in assets, and I was living with an elderly retired couple. The only difference between when I graduated and today is that now no one can afford to retire.”