10 1/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said by Charles Wheelan

25 Apr

imagesBibliographic Information

10 ½ Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said by Charles Wheelan, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2012, ISBN: 978-0-393-07431-4

Plot Summary

Charles Wheelan’s book was adapted from a Class Day Speech he gave at Dartmouth College in 2011.  After the transcript of the speech began to be shared on the Internet, he expanded on the points he made to students.  Some of the advice he offers graduates includes:

  • Some of your worst days lie ahead
  • Don’t make the world worse
  • Marry someone smarter than you are
  • Help stop the Little League arms race
  • Read obituaries
  • Take time off
  • Your parents don’t want what’s best for you
  • Don’t model your life after a circus animal
  • Don’t try to be great

Critical Evaluation

As someone who works in a high school, I suffer through commencement speeches every year, and every year the speakers repeat a variation of “our time here was awesome; our future is going to be more awesome.”  Even if this were true, it’s hardly inspiring or even interesting to listen to.  That’s why Wheelan’s book is so welcome at this time of year.  Let’s hope some would-be-graduation speaker picks up this slim volume and learns something from Wheelan’s honest assessment of what makes life worth living.

Wheelen includes some staples of the commencement formula.  He reminds graduates that it’s the journey, not the destination that matters and that happiness depends more on personal relationships than accomplishments.  What stands out here though are the harder truths.  In “Some of your worst days lie ahead” he warns his audience that there will be a lot of slogging through tedious tasks before the more purposeful and fulfilling work begins. In “Don’t make the world worse” and “Don’t model your life after a circus animal” he comments how easy it is for smart people to do horrible things for financial rewards. In every chapter, Wheelan includes interesting studies, stories, and personal anecdotes to support the advice he’s giving to young people

If there were an all encompassing theme to this volume, it would be “Don’t let your future be determined by someone else.”  This is an important message for young people to hear today when so much of their future “success” seems predicated on what school they go to, what firm they work for, and where they settle down.

Information about the author

Charles Wheelan is the author of the internationally best selling Naked Economics.  He teaches at Dartmouth College and lives in Hanover, New Hampshire with his family.


Non-Fiction, Advice, How-To

Reading Level / Interest Age

Grade 9 and up


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