grad zoom

If you were giving a graduation speech to a new class of students, what would your message be? That’s a question I made the mistake of trying to answer on Twitter. I tweeted,

    “You are the luckiest graduating class in decades. The pandemic has broken, cracked and weakened many traditional barriers for you. Don’t think about ‘getting a job.’ There are none. Think about solving problems. There are many.”

In hindsight, I should have DM’d the person who asked the question, but for better or for worse I got an up close and personal demonstration of why no one should ever even try to have a thoughtful or meaningful conversation on Twitter. That said, here’s a 7,200-character version of my 240-character tweet. I’m ready. Let me have it.

“You are the luckiest graduation class in decades.”

This line was intended to snap the reader to attention. There’s no way that any rational human being could think that any of us are lucky to be living through the pandemic. It is a tragic war with tragic outcomes, and the economy may not recover for decades. But the literary device worked, and it got people to read and react to the next line – the actual thesis of my tweet:

“The pandemic has broken, cracked and weakened many traditional barriers for you.”

Here are a few examples. Until two months ago, almost none of my doctors practiced telemedicine, few would correspond via email, and few were able to charge a co-pay for interactions outside a traditional office or hospital visit. Now, all of my physicians are practicing telemedicine, and all are requesting co-pays via online payment. This transition was going to take years – it took the pandemic and two months. I can say the same about online education, online video meetings, direct-to-consumer theatrical motion picture releases, and about a hundred other business practices that have experienced 8 to 10 years’ worth of process innovation in less than 60 days.

For years, the cliché has been, “Millennials don’t understand why everything doesn’t just work together.” Now, due to the pandemic, the business rules that prevented “everything from just working together” are being revised and reimagined in every business sector. Few, if any, traditional systems, processes, workflows, barriers, seasons, or dates have remained untouched – not even April 15th.

“Don’t think about ‘getting a job.’ There are none.”

This is pretty obvious. Businesses are closed or operating with reduced staff all over the world. If you are fortunate enough to be a worker whose skills are in demand, you know who you are. For almost everyone else, job opportunities are very limited. This is doubly painful because before the pandemic, we were enjoying some of the lowest unemployment numbers in recent memory. (We can discuss the actual status of the pre-pandemic job market another time.)

Let’s define “a job.” In simple terms, it is the translation of your intellectual property into wealth. Your employer “rents” your intellectual property at an agreed-upon price. You call it a job. But that’s just shorthand for the application of your problem-solving capabilities to someone else’s problems for money.

“Think about solving problems. There are many.”

My suggestion to newly minted graduates was for them to expand their thinking. Instead of solving a problem that someone else has identified for you, instead of looking to fit into an organization that is collapsing under its own weight, instead of trying to fight your way into a bureaucracy created by others, identify a problem you see in the “new world.” We could do ____ if ____ existed. These people need shelter – what if I created ____? People need to educate their children – if only ____ was connected to ____. Then go create value by solving the problem. The world pays for production. The world pays for value. This has always been true. It is still true. And there have never been more problems to solve or more opportunities to solve them.

The Pushback

The pushback came in many forms. Most people could not resist insulting me personally and making assumptions about my political ideology or simply my sex and my age. Others just pontificated about how out of touch I am with reality. This simple Twitter thread is wholly demonstrative of everything that is wrong with social media and why it is truly bad for humanity. But we’ll leave that for another time as well.

Here’s my pushback to the pushback. This is not a time to hold on to the past. This is not a time to think about what it was like pre-pandemic. That’s history. It’s informative, but it’s done. Now is the time to try to understand what has happened. Think hard about what is happening. Get a sense of how it will play out for you personally, professionally, and every other way you can think about it. Then, replace your fear and anxiety with hope and optimism.

Hope and optimism? Are you kidding? There are 30 million people on unemployment. The government relief package is the biggest in history and it’s not going to be enough. My biggest problem is that I don’t have a job and I probably can’t get one. What other problem can I possibly have?

An Alternative Approach

I’m not suggesting that this is not the worst economic situation the world has ever faced. I’m not trying to tell people to start businesses without capital or to become inventors or creators overnight. There is no Yoda-esque wisdom, no pop culture meme, no comic book philosophy, no 240-character missives that will fix this. People are dying. More people are going to die. There are no tweets that embody the answer.

If you believe that you do not have the capability to help yourself, you are not alone. Most people cannot. But if you can identify problems and are smart enough to understand how to solve them, if you can create something where nothing existed before, if you can build with your hands, if you can cook, if you can fix things that are broken, if you can create a service, create a product, create a tool, create anything of value, then right now is the time to take those thoughts, dreams, and capabilities and match them to the opportunities. It will be insanely hard. BTW, creating anything of value is insanely hard. That’s why it’s called work!

You may fail. But you will be a phoenix rising out of those ashes. You will have honed new skills, unlocked new capabilities, and tested yourself to your limits – and you will emerge stronger for it.

Go ahead and send out 500 resumes; no one is stopping you. But while you automate that process, look around you. The world is changing before your very eyes. Money is tight. Tempers are high. People are at each other’s throats. If that’s all you see, then these words will mean nothing.

However, if you see opportunities to help others, to build something, to fix what is broken, to fill a blank page, to create something where before there was nothing, then you will be the beneficiary of that value you create. This is as close to a do-over, as close to a blank slate as any class has ever graduated into. And today, Graduating Class, there are no “boomers” or any of their business rules or workflows in your way. Attack this year with all your might, and trust that in the fullness of time, you will succeed.


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Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.

About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit



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