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The Best Commencement Speech I Ever Heard

The first time I saw “Avenue Q,” I had just graduated with

bachelor’s degrees in Communication and Dance from the University of California, San Diego – neither of which provided clear stepping-stones to a viable career. I was in Las Vegas with my family (where the show had set up shop briefly at the Wynn Hotel) and was embarrassed and thrilled when the first lines were sung: “What do you do with a BA in English?” asked the new alumnus Princeton. It hit a bit close to home.

I gave a commencement speech at my college’s graduation (John Muir College, one of six that comprise UCSD) and told about 6,000 people to find what they’re passionate about (whether sports, politics, music or, in my case, dance) and make that their guiding priority through life. Basically a 10-minute cliché, though one I’ve adhered to with rewarding results. But seeing “Avenue Q” was something of an antidote to that blind optimism, but not in a dismissive way. Life’s tough, it admits, so make good friends. I’m not sure I’ve heard better advice since.

And so it was a pleasure to revisit the musical, in its new off-Broadway location and still in top form, and treat my cousin, a recent Harvard grad, to these wise – and raunchy – words that remain so true. As “Sesame Street,” the show it parodies, taught us the basics of math and language and morals in our single-digit years, so does “Avenue Q” break down the often-confusing subjects of jobs, finances and relationship to their building blocks for our roaring 20s. The perfect gift for your new graduate.

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