All of you who are about to graduate from something, somewhere, I'm about to let you in on a carefully-guarded secret.
All these years, teachers or professors haven't really been teaching you algebra, western civilization, physics or whatever other subjects and activities have suffered upon you endless lectures, practices, papers and tests, tests, tests.
Indeed, as you already suspect, in life beyond schooling most of you will in fact never have to use a whole lot of what you have learned... though being able to recite the entire periodic table of elements can certainly make for a lively cocktail party.
What I recall from my early schooling is learning how to climb a rope in gym (not very useful unless you plan to become Batman), how to build an erupting volcano (shockingly little call for this in real life) and how to play "Rainy Days and Mondays" on a plastic recorder flute thingie (imagine my surprise when I discovered that famous rock bands have sadly overlooked the potential of the plastic recorder.)
Your grandparents studied Latin in high school, for no good reason whatsoever. Not many ancient Greeks around to converse with these days. Your parents learned rudimentary computer programming languages in high school that were going extinct before they even donned their caps and gowns.
Sad but true, there is in real life precious little call for building shoebox dioramas, dissecting frogs, solving linear equations, selling the inevitable fundraiser candy bars and fruit boxes door to door, explaining things via magazine pictures pasted to posterboard, or even placing condoms on bananas.
Why, why, why did they insist on teaching you things you won't need to know?
They didn't. It was all a ruse. What they were really teaching you all along is how to learn. And that, you will need to use, every day of your life.
Hopefully, they have taught you curiosity. To question everything, and how to go about looking for the answers. Because there will be much for you yet to learn, including things we have yet to imagine. What you ultimately have learned, we hope, is that you can learn, and try, and experience new things. Anything. Anywhere. Anytime. No limits. That's what education is.
Guess what? All that graduation speaker happy talk you are about to hear, caterpillars turning into beautiful butterflies and following your dreams... all crap.
Dream change. Plans change. Relationships change. Careers come and go. That's reality. It seldom is perfect and pretty and poetic. It's more like jumping out of a freight train at high speed. What you thought you would be doing with your life, in nine cases out of ten, sorry, you won't. Adaptability may be the best skill you learn. You won't have one life, you'll likely have many.
Salman Khan, in a great speech at MIT commencement in 2012, advised students to live their lives like they are second chances:
"... Imagine yourself in 50 years. You're in your early 70s, near the end of your career. You're sitting on your couch, having just watched the State of the Union holographic address by President Kardashian.
"You begin to ponder your life. The career successes, how you've been able to provide for your family. You'll think of all the great moments with your family and friends. But then you start to think about all of the things you wished you had done just a little differently, your regrets. I can guess at what they might be.
"Sitting in 2062, you wish that you had spent more time with your children. That you had told your spouse how much you loved them more frequently. That you could have even one more chance to hug your parents and tell them how much you appreciate them before they passed. That you could have smiled more, laughed more, danced more and created more. That you better used the gifts you were given to empower others and make the world better.
"Just as you're thinking this, a genie appears from nowhere and says, "I have been eavesdropping on your regrets. They are valid ones. I can tell you are a good person so I am willing to give you a second chance if you really want one.' You say 'Sure' and the genie snaps his fingers.
"All of a sudden you find yourself right where you are sitting today. It is June 8, 2012, at Killian Court. You are in your shockingly fit and pain-free 20-something body and begin to realize that it has really happened. You really do have the chance to do it over again. To have the same career successes and deep relationships. But, now you can optimize. You can laugh more, dance more and love more. Your parents are here again so it is your chance to love them like you wished you had done the first time. You can be the source of positivity that you wished you had been the first time around."
Pretty good advice, I think.
Ultimately, what doesn't matter is your score on all those standardized tests, but the fact that you aren't done learning, growing and adapting when you leave.
Butterflies don't last. Survivors do.
If you've learned one thing to take with you, I hope you've learned that.