In his commencement speech at Wake Forest University this morning, comedian Stephen Colbert offered the class of 2015 one key piece of advice: Whatever else you do, develop your own set of standards.
“It may seem counterintuitive now, but when you leave here, you may miss being graded on all your work,” Colbert warned. “There are no objective criteria for achievement anymore. People my age will sometimes say to you, ‘Hey, that work you did, that thing you said, that cause you championed? It’s not good.'”
Those are the moments when your own internal metric is most critical. “Having your own standards,” the late night host advised, “allows you to perceive success where others may see failure.”
To illustrate the point, Colbert turned to his own career. “I have a pretty good idea of what jokes will get laughs and what jokes are iffy, but I’m going to say them anyway, because I kinda like how iffy they are,” he said.
It’s that ability to function without external validation that he says let him “keep going at times when no one laughed, or when I thought the person I was interviewing was going to throw a punch at me.”
But while he acknowledged that “any standards worth having will be a challenge to meet, and most of the time you will fall short,” he encouraged grads to go easy on themselves. “From now on, you fill out your own report card. So do yourself a favour. Be an easy grader. Give yourself extra credit.”
“You have the power — you are your own professor now,” he continued. “Which I know is a little creepy, because that means you’re showering with your professor. But you have tenure. They can’t fire you.”
NOW WATCH: Ideas videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.