Essex Books Presents Shelf Awareness: Advice to Graduates

Advice to Graduates: Read Make Trouble

I'm not adept at taking advice, good or otherwise. And I've sat through a few too many achingly bad commencement speeches. In fact, the previous two sentences could serve as the start of yet another earnest trip down the rabbit hole of "as you go forth into the world on this auspicious day...."

Fortunately, great commencement speeches do happen sometimes. While some attain digital immortality, a chosen few even become books. My favorites include George Saunders's Congratulations, by the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness; Ann Patchett's What Now?; J.K. Rowling's Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure & the Importance of Imagination; and Neil Gaiman's Make Good Art.

Any of these would make an excellent graduation gift. And this year their select ranks have been joined by a wonderful addition--filmmaker, writer and exquisite troublemaker John Waters's Make Trouble, which is taken from his 2015 Rhode Island School of Design commencement speech.

"Remember, a 'no' is free," Waters counsels. "Ask for the world and pay no mind if you are initially turned down. A career in the arts is like a hitchhiking trip: All you need is one person to say 'Get in' and off you go. And then the confidence begins... Remember: You must participate in the creative world you want to become part of. So what if you have talent? Then what? You have to figure out how to work your way inside."

But wait, there's more: "Listen to your political enemies, especially the smart ones, and then figure out a way to make them laugh. Nobody likes a bore on a soapbox. Humor is always the best defense and weapon. If you can make an idiot laugh, they'll at least pause and listen before they do something stupid--to you."

My advice to graduates: If you can't make trouble today, then at least read Make Trouble.

Written by Robert Gray, contributing editor

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