Writing Switch: Aspen’s biggest valedictorians

Benjamin Welch and Sean Beckwith

We didn’t give the commencement speeches at our high school graduations, not only because we don’t care/aren’t smart enough, but also because we are stutterers. What a cruel term for that condition. This advice isn’t a big “rah-rah, go grad!” type of lecture — calm down, it’s only high school. Just wait until you start college and it isn’t any harder. Sometimes you need to hear the advice of someone older and wiser than yourself who isn’t a parent, even if they’re too indecisive on things, like which meal delivery subscription to get, to be qualified themselves.

SB: GOOOODDDD MORNING VIETNAM!!! Just a little “Office” reference of a Robin Williams you probably don’t understand to get things started. So, before I tell you the difference between a salesman and a saleswoman, let me say this to the class of 2020: You’re all f-ed — and that’s OK.

From one recession-time graduate to another, you may have high hopes for you future, which is great, but there also may be a point in the journey where the only options are unpaid internships and “the promise of graduate school.”

My advice to you, if I may evoke another obscure reference, this time from the cult classic “The Big Lebowski”: “Get a job, sir.”

Don’t wait for your college career to end to start looking or you’ll find yourself on a loading dock, schlepping rich people’s luggage while applying to a grad school you’ll inevitably drop out of. Trust me, I’ve seen it a million times.

In the time of the corona and economic uncertainty, remember these three words: Always. Be. Employed. Unpaid internships, aka working for free, and most degrees — save for those required to enter a field — aren’t as valuable as on-the-job experience.

I wish I wrote freelance during college because bylines are king. Obviously, no one is going to give you a scalpel and a patient to operate on, a mound of cash to invest or a building to design, but a mailroom clerk or some other low-level work that anyone can get do will give your dream employer a feel for your work ethic and a face to a name on an application when the time comes.

Even if it’s not in the field you’re pursuing, you may find it more fulfilling than that 9-to-5 bullshit — and there will be bullshit — you’re chasing. Who knows, maybe you’ll find cooking to be every bit as creative an outlet as pottery but one that comes with a consistent paycheck. One thing you’ll definitely find, though, is a work ethic.

Work ethic is what takes you from an entitled millennial, or whatever generation you are, with a degree to a helpful/not worthless coworker. You’ll be surprised at how good some people are at doing nothing. Don’t be one of those people.

On top of work ethic, experience and maybe a degree or two, you’ll need luck. You think I became one of the most prolific columnists in the greater Rocky Mountain region on hard work alone?

Hell no. Most of the advice I’ve given you thus far comes from — shocker — the missteps I took. I sparingly delivered pizzas and sandwiches during college. I went one for two in postgraduate programs. I had multiple unpaid internships that were about as useful as a degree in Sanskrit.

My path to a full-time career at The Aspen Times came from working my way up from part-time proofreader. I was able to do that because of the supplemental income from a second job as a front desk clerk, the work ethic I showed proofreading and the relationships I had built at the paper. The way I got the front desk job was from the “hospitality experience” I attained while working on the loading dock at The Little Nell, which is where I learned work ethic and how I was able to move back to Aspen after dropping out of grad school.

That’s a lot of right place, right time. There was a point where I applied for hospitality jobs in Hawaii because I thought journalism was never going to happen.

Things did not always go my way. Things will not always go your way. Do everything you can to put yourself in a place to succeed and maybe you’ll only be f-ed for a year or two as opposed to five.

Best of luck.

BW: Ten years ago I was standing on the same stage you are, except it was a different stage and I was home-schooled so it was really just an altar at church. I’m sure nobody wants a “back in my day” speech from someone who isn’t even out of his late-20s existential crisis yet, but I made it through the social-media transitions from Neopets to so give me some credit. Everyone on the internet in that era was kind of a weirdo, and VampireFreaks was basically a subreddit within that. Just think, there are websites older than you. Uhhhmazin’.

When I graduated I managed both a Facebook and a Myspace. Can you imagine the stress of ranking your friends one through eight for the world to see? And when Brandy pisses you off, you demote her to passive agressively spite her, since you know she’ll notice? That was truly the Wild West of technology.

If you’ve gone to school here most or all of your life, and your parents are pressuring you to go to CMC, don’t listen. There is no such thing as “saving money” when it comes to college — either you’ll be able to pay off your loans someday or you won’t, or maybe the government will forgive them, or maybe when the cicadas break their 17-year nap and pop out of the ground this summer, the apocalypse will happen.

You’ll be getting some graduation gift money, and if your first thought is “here’s a semester of room and board,” shake it out of your head. Buy a toy, and then dump the rest into Bitcoin. As of this writing it’s at $8,788 and looking to rise. The more we all put into the system, the more we earn together. Boom, millenial finance 101.

Get outside the valley and see some destitution. Also, don’t waste your college-age years doing it online if universities aren’t allowed to reopen. Take the gap year and you’ll spend more time at the legal drinking age once we’re allowed to have fun again. So far, this should be your prime.

My prime also is right now, in a funny twist of irony. My whole entire life I have been wanting this exact thing to happen — where time just freezes and I can spend my days pacing around and working in my cozy clothes and firing off hilarious tweets nobody sees. And in a 1-in-a-billion chance, an unsung prayer went answered. I don’t know if it’s made me more productive per se, but not having to worry about how shitty my man bun looks before going out into public has been a burden lifted.

But seriously, just do whatever you want. Hell, I might just run away to Canada and play online poker in the woods and train a falcon. Too lazy to go through the rigamarole of getting a passport at the post office, though.

A lot of freshmen show up to college expecting to keep their long-distance relationship going. Not worth it. Going to house parties are much more entertaining when you’re not in a Snapchat argument with insecure Isaac from back home. And someday, if you’re lucky, you’ll meet that person who makes you wonder how far you’ll go to change yourself into what they’re looking for. The answer, of course, is all the way.

Don’t say no to things. That doesn’t mean say yes to everything, but you can’t stress about how your decisions now will affect your path forever. Unapologetically be yourself and see where it leads. Slam an MD 20/20 and smoke some real paranoia-inducing weed, just to peer behind the veil, if you haven’t already.

As you’ve learned, life can go sideways out of nowhere and rob you of prom night and everything else. Now take that cynicism into the world!