To Those Graduating from USC (or perhaps other schools).

I realize this post may not apply to many of you, but that’s okay.  At one point it will or did.

This post is to USC’s senior class that stands to graduate shortly.  This class is special to me for many reasons, but that is not the point of this post.  The point of this post is to break a bottle of champagne (or bourbon, but who’d waste that?) on the hull of your departing ships.  You assholes are in for a wild ride.  You should probably watch Girls, Lost in Translation and several violent 90s action movies.  Anytime I have a bad day at work I think about how Bruce Willis killed a whole building filled with terrorists in Century City in the 80s.  Or how Arnold was forced to fight for his life in a game show that got ripped off 1000 times until you got stuck with the Hunger Games. But yeah, graduating seniors.

May the odds be every in your favor, and if they aren’t, give the odds the middle finger, kill a terrorist and take his machine gun.

This class is special to me.  The blog started their freshman year (I think).  They were vocal during the sanctions era.  Members of this class have brought me to tailgates and kept me young.  They’ve worn my t-shirts and campaigned for me when ESPN shows up.  They’ve brought me to campus to speak and I’ve helped get them hired as interns.  I’ve spoken at their Order of Omega retreat and they’ve made me look cool in front of my wife lining up to spill bourbon with me.  I’ve hung with them  in Vegas and possibly used illuminated pool floatie noodles to make dubstep-timed photocopies of them and total strangers for no good reason.  They’ve escorted me to the 9-0 even though the 9-0 should be the 10-0 or 11-0 at this point it’s so much cleaner than in my early 2000s days.  Someone I won’t name punched someone I won’t name (I think because of me, I wasn’t all there at the time) and the worst part of it wasn’t a man getting cold cocked by a woman at a bar, the worst part was falling to your knees and getting the sludge on the floor all over you.  You can’t just clean it off you.

The point is, this last year because of these seniors, not only have I experienced incredible personal benefits, I have really been brought into the community in the best possible way, by students.  Arrogant Nation was always for the current students.  My alumni readership understands that.  When we support Arrogant Nation, it’s a connection between past and present, it’s a hope that the current kids (despite the fact that now you need to be smart as hell to get into USC) uphold the old school arrogant ways our forealums set in motion. The minute we simply rely on our big endowment and high admission standards, the sooner we turn into Stanford, which even when I visited it in 8th grade drove me to become more outgoing so I’d always talk to girls and cool dudes so I never ended up like the kids I met there in the cafeteria who looked like they missed the memo that college is supposed to be the best time of your life, and if not, it at least should be the most buckwild.

This senior class has delivered.  They are arrogant, they are loyal and they are smart.  So now what? Sparta, bitches.

As you no doubt have realized, this is the scene in the 300 where they send your ass out into the cold and basically say, “Don’t fucking come back until you kill a huge ass wolf and find killing wolves hilarious”.

Shocking as it may be to those who haven’t heard me speak at SC, I didn’t leave college a bearfighter.  I had to learn these skills in the wild through getting my ass handed to me, questioning everything and then learning what things about me posed significant matchup problems for the opposition.  I’ve used this very blog to make things happen for me in my life.  The best way to learn is just to do.

That’s why Nike says “just do it”.  In fact “just do it” is said before most of the best most epic and worst most epic decisions in your life.  Those are the ones you are going to want to seek out and learn from.

Some of you have plans.  There’s MBA kid or LSAT kid or MCAT kid.  They can tend to freak you out Comm/Film/Liberal Arts/Music/Poli Sci majors.  Don’t worry.  Let me be the first to say, the path isn’t what makes you “make it”.  It’s how hard you run forward and how fast you swing the machete and how fearlessly you commit yourselves to that path. Some of you will have low starting salaries, some of you will have high starting salaries.  Believe me though, your hourly rates will probably be similar.

I remember a lawyer friend of mine blowing my mind.  They were making almost 2.5 times my annual salary, but while I was pre-screening HBO shows and working on top of a motorcycle shop in WeHo, they were dropping 90+ hour weeks, not coming to happy hours and falling off the face of the fucking planet. I am not knocking them, that particular lawyer now is well on their way to being a partner and their hours have downgraded from suicidal to weekend warrior.  The point is, he and I make about the same at this point.  We took vastly different roles.  He worked crazy hard and was rewarded.  I got fired twice, survived cancer for the second time, contemplated switching careers, sold some writing and then ended up a mad man strategizing digital and social ads.  We both probably ran around the same amount.  We both ended up pretty much the same.  That’s because at some point for both of us, we learned to work hard, take responsibility and own our failures as much as our successes.  That said, I’m glad I work in video games (no offense buddy!)

My point is that the kid who tries to intimidate you with their “plan” is super insecure and feels like your self-doubt might fuel them.  Fuck that noise, friends.  Just say “hope that works out for you”.  Your job is to be a bearfighter.  Honestly, the best things I did for myself in business all had to do with making relationships, putting others before myself and having the courage to bite off more than I could chew.

When everyone talks about a bad economy, it’s easy to use it as an excuse.  Sure, it may take you a while to find work.  It took me from May to October to get a job out of college, but now, I have a big network and plenty of places to look if I had to.  Also, regardless of how hard you plan a perfect career, you will lose a job, you will get a promotion, you will fail in the face of success and definitely succeed in the face of failure.  The only thing YOU can control is how hard you work and by the same token, how much shit you can take without turning into a whiner.

I always think back to the only cool Oregon Duck, Steve Prefontaine, who made running a rockstar occupation.  The dude was lazers and glow sticks and pool parties.  Rent the film “Without Limits” and watch it and think about it every damn time you face adversity.  Honestly, I’ve run 2 marathons because of this film because I wanted to know how far I could push it.  Here’s a few quotes from “Pre” that every Trojan should understand (well, quotes from the film at least)

“I’d like to work it out so that in the end, it comes down to a pure guts race. If it is, I’m the only one who can win it.” – Steve Prefontaine

And then this scene, which has been my mantra.  It’s all about bearfighting.

Mary Marckx: You don’t really believe you can do anything. Steve Prefontaine: Absolutely. Mary: Fly a plane? Pre: Well, sure. If I wanted, you read the manual and get the best teaching and… take off. Mary: Steve, not everything can be learned, ya know, I mean, some things take talent. Pre: Whoa. Let me tell you something. Talent is a myth, Mary. There’s a dozen guys on the team with more talent in their little finger. Mary: Then how come you can beat them? Pre: A little secret I learned a long time ago, in Coos Bay, in the woods. Mary: So what’s your little secret? The one you learned a long time ago. Pre: I can endure more pain than anyone you’ve ever met. That’s why I can beat anyone I’ve ever met. 

Being tested is the best feeling in the world.  Not at the time, but to get through it and see you can?  That’s what Fight Club was about (and a lot of other stuff).  It’s about the first time you put on football pads and get absolutely ROCKED and then you get up and see you are still alive.  Like you did something that day.  There’s a nobility about being able to take a punch and throw one back.  Nothing is more demoralizing to the enemy than for them to think they’ve put you down only to find out the opposite.  You are stronger now.

I don’t advocate revenge, but I do advocate proving everyone wrong.  People have stronger times and more vulnerable times.  You need endurance and patience and a little bit of perverse arrogance to be a success.  When you are wronged or kicked in the teeth, get back up and keep going and make a note about who got you.  You are like a tiger.  You will hunt them forever.

Realistically, the world doesn’t like people that need to put other people down to make it.  By the time you have the perfect chance to have your moment of glory with them, most likely the world will have dragged them down and you’ll be doing so much better that the whole thing seems petty.  Most of my enemies I can’t remember at this point, so in a way, they aren’t really enemies anymore.

The way to get ahead in the real world is to bring your friends and co-workers with you.  The number one key to success after how hard you work and how many punches you can take is simply being the kind of person other want to succeed.

Stay late and help with other projects, meet people on other teams or departments.  Go to happy hour when you are young because you will get married, have kids and as foreign as this sounds, you will want to spend all your time with your significant other.  That’s why your Dad isn’t at the 9-0 with you.  He’s at home with his best friend.  (That said I’ve drank at the 9-0 with some Dads and exceptions to the rule are awesome.  Embrace them).

That brings me to the next point.  Dating is about to change and it will factor into your real world life.  In a big way.  You are going to have friends that just start nesting and getting engaged really soon.  The first year or so will be a blur.  It will be like college.  You won’t have crazy work responsibility, you will have some grad school friends, you will meet up at bars and feel kind of poor.  It’s a great time.  I recommend you enjoy this period.  I lived in a magically Never-Neverland Narnia Middle Earth for a year after I graduated and it was amazing.

The thing is, the nesting will start and you need to not hate your friends who have life changes.  People are going to run different races and you need to respect that.  Some will act like assholes and tell you far, far too much about their plans unsolicited.  Don’t worry.  They will get married, you will have fewer chances to see each other and eventually, systematically removing them from your life is as simple as not returning that 2x yearly call to meet up at some awful Italian place that they like but no one else does. Do NOT be sentimental.  Friends will change.  The key for you is to move at the speed of your life and relationships.  Don’t waste energy being a hater, even on people hating on you.  Life will work it out and at some point you will probably feel bad for them about something, if you even think about them at all.  I don’t even remember what I ate yesterday let alone what or who I was mad about five years ago.  If we haven’t talked, you aren’t on my mind, and thus, we’re all good.  If you are, we’re probably drinking soon.  People from the first list need only invite you for a drink to be present of mind again.  It’s a cycle.  Life works it out.  I just don’t want you to miss an opportunity because you are being spiteful about someone you care about’s life moving in a direction that makes no sense.  It only needs to make sense to them.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

Choose your circle based on how their lives work with yours.  I have been in a 3 year period of amazing dinners, trips and bachelor parties leading into weddings.  Your great friends who are just happy for your wins will probably marry people that you like.  My friends’ wives are some of my best friends now and I think they’d say the same about my wife, mostly because I found her and how bad could anyone I spend all day and night with be.  She’s better than finding $100 in every pocket of every piece of clothing you own for six months straight.

So in case you need all of this summed up, here goes:

Work harder than anyone else.  Don’t take it personally when life kicks you in the balls (or female equivalent).  Enjoy the feeling of taking a punch.  Project what you want to happen to your friends and find out what they want.  Help them get what they want and they will do the same.  Don’t be sentimental about relationships.  The best people work hard to be around you and it isn’t hard work.  It’s a reward for hard work (and not being sentimental).  Always forgive but never forget.  Don’t sweat your ex (high school, college, confusing “Girls” style quarterlife dating partners, failed fiance/fiancee, ex-spouse).  They are probably good people and probably important to where you are now, even if it’s just to know what you hate.  If you can root for them to be happy, you probably are great at finding happiness for yourself.  Let life sort itself out.  Don’t borrow trouble.  You will find plenty.  Determine the things you can control and aggressively attack those things.  If you can’t control it, focus on learning to deal with it.  Marry the person you want to allocate the most of your time with.  That doesn’t sound romantic, but when you find it, you will realize it’s the most romantic thing ever.  Time is everything and short of a big ass engagement ring, it’s the most valuable asset you have.  Just watch that bad movie with Timberlake and Amanda Seyeysufired.

You may want to put this in life, Helvetica and turn it into a poster.  It’s the shitty version of the beginning of Trainspotting, which I hope you have seen even though it was before your time.

Pretty soon, you will wake up and for the first time in your life your name won’t be on a list of somewhere you are supposed to be.  No one will be expecting you.  Don’t be scared.  Enjoy the deep breath life is affording you.  When you have collected yourself, stumble, sprint and ramble hard into your life.  Endless possibilities.  In 2001 when I graduated high school, there was no formal social media to speak of and now, I get to direct an entire division of smart, cool people using it to sell video games.  And I went to film school.  My father was a history major and runs a television station.  Life is a trip.

You got not idea what’s coming and you don’t need to.  Just figure out how you want to run the race and worry about the course at each turn.

I ask only one thing of you as you move forward.  Fight hard and enjoy it.  Actually, two things.  Please make sure your younger friends, lil bros and sisters read this blog.  I have no idea how long I will keep doing it.  Like I said, I work hard to not be sentimental.  We may win the Natty next year and I may retire.  I have no idea other than that there is still gas in this tank.

Thanks for being a part of Arrogant Nation and growing it.  Now, at tail gates, we will be fellow alum.

In the words of Hunter S. Thompson, “Buy the ticket.  Take the Ride”.

And you’re off…



Filed under Rants and Musings

24 Responses to To Those Graduating from USC (or perhaps other schools).

  1. Well said! FIGHT ON!!!
    Pam – Class of 93

  2. Richard Arrow

    This should be the commencement address at every university in the world, every year, until the end of time.

  3. keeleyaurora

    I get it, no love for class of 2011.

    • Zack Jerome

      plenty of love for 2011, you are just one of the family already and frankly i didnt have the idea to do this last year haha

  4. keeleyaurora

    Sigh.. no love for ’11

  5. uscwright

    Thanks for the memories bearfighter #FTFO and see you on gameday.

  6. Michael

    You’re the man. Seriously

  7. scgirl11

    This is awesome. I wish you were speaking at our commencement!!

  8. scgirl11

    This is awesome. I wish you were speaking at commencement!!

  9. C

    2012 loves you too. PS could May 14 come any sooner?

  10. Bear Fighter,

    Years ago an old mentor voiced an opinion about how he had done so well and had so much fun……”Single Digit IQ but I am Relentless”, I took it to heart and have done well and have had so much fun!


  11. Pingback: Graduation | A Trojan Abroad

  12. Pingback: USC Commencement – May 11, 2012 | Jeff Bishop

  13. Honestly, the best things I did for myself in business all had to do with making relationships, putting others before myself and having the courage to bite off more than I could chew.

    I like that.

  14. Tom

    Wouldn’t have been the same without you.

  15. you’re brilliant. looking forward to reading these every week as an SC alum now

  16. Adamska_Leon

    I’m a freshman at SC and this is literally the most inspiring thing I’ve ever read in my entire fucking life. A salute to you, good sir.

  17. You continue to be awesome! This is great sir!

  18. Charles

    “The minute we simply rely on our big endowment and high admission standards, the sooner we turn into Stanford.”


  19. Win4Ever

    Quality stuff, Zack. I graduated from USC in 2010, got married (to a Trojan DG of course), and started a family all from 2010-2011. What’s on tap for 2012, you ask? Obviously, season tickets to USC with all my buddies. Family, friends, football, Fight On!!!

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