It’s graduation season. And that means there is much blather being blabbed about how to get along in the world. Personally, I’ve long wondered what college is about these days if our institutions of higher learning wait until they are handing out the old sheepskins to bring up such subjects as how to be successful, how to be virtuous, and how to keep those two imperatives from colliding too catastrophically.

There are two ways to begin a commencement address according to the bylaws of the American Association for Convocation Oratory. The first is to talk about how one was thinking about what one would say and wondering how to rise to the occasion, stumped at how to say something meaningful and touching. This first way is so much tedious throat-clearing, a dog’s breakfast of filler and byproducts, and we will be having none of that. The second officially sanctioned way to get started is to tell a joke, a preacher’s sermon sort of joke.

Indeed, at a baccalaureate ceremony this month, the featured speaker told this story, which he portrayed as an actual transcript of a confrontation between the U.S. Navy and Canadian authorities in October 1995: The USS Abraham Lincoln was on course to collide with the Canadians. The Canadians urged the Americans to change course. The U.S. was having none of it and demanded the Canadians change their course. Back and forth they went until the Canadians informed the bullying Americans they were manning a lighthouse.

Following the joke comes the part of the commencement address in which the speaker muses on the meaning of the word “commencement” and why it is used to describe a ceremony that puts the end in endeavor, an occasion that is felt as a culmination, a completion, a termination.

Now, we get to the meat of the matter, the point in the address in which the speaker justifies his or her wearing of academic robes. Or, if it isn’t a scholar, he or she can always talk business.

A few days ago, I sat in a miasmic football stadium under a ruthless Texas sun and was treated to advice on getting ahead by a “digital media executive.” Now a publisher, the commencement speaker recounted his early adult years selling newspaper advertising. The secret of success? Show up for work half an hour earlier than the next guy; stay on and keep working for an hour after everyone else has gone home.

As the stadium went from bake to broil, he recounted his first great triumph peddling ad space. It seems that the town his younger self was working in was one where everyone knocked off early on Friday afternoons to get a jump start on the weekend. Not our hero, who worked the phones until late in the day. It was one such Friday afternoon when he hooked the fat contract that proved to be the first rung in the ladder of his success.

Not to question hard work, but is it really the time to be pounding the pavement when everyone in town is out of town?

After telling the graduates that they must be willing to work harder and longer than anyone else, the digital media executive finished his speech with advice on the importance of maintaining work-life balance. Work too hard, ignore your family, and you’re likely to end up leaving a trail of broken marriages.

Those listening might be forgiven for asking how to both work harder than anyone else and at the same time maintain a healthy involvement in the life of one’s family. But the berobed masses sweating it out on the sweltering turf were too busy resting their eyes. Resting up, no doubt, to be ready to use their expensive degrees to make sales calls.

Eric Felten is the James Beard Award-winning author of How’s Your Drink?