Tom Clancy, ‘69: Nothing is as real as a dream
October 3, 2013
Tom Clancy delivered this speech at Loyola’s Commencement on May 25, 1986. Teddi Burns, ‘86, was graduating that day and shared this copy of the speech with Loyola magazine.
Father Sellinger, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen, graduates of the Class of 1986.
Some years ago I found myself in a contemplative mood that comes to us all at least once per day, and I asked myself a question that I must have asked thousands of times.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
It hit me then that I was well over 30. I had a home, and the mortgage that goes along with it. Two cars, and the car payments that go along with them. Two children, and the responsibilities that accrue to them; also, I was in a job that had its good moments and bad, and whether I liked it or not, I knew that I could not afford to leave it for the reasons already enumerated.
The stunning and depressing realization hit me that I was grown up, finally, and while I might not be what I wanted to be, I was in the middle-class trap that I myself had forged, just as surely as Scrooge’s partner, Jacob Marley, had forged his own destiny. It hit me that I would have to get along as best I could, making my payments, fulfilling my responsibilities, worrying about the future as most of us learn to do.
The real world into which most of you are about to escape, if that’s the right choice of words, is largely a trap. Those of you who have chosen to go on to graduate or professional schools will only delay the inevitable. After the gentle responsibilities you’ve experienced for the last 16 years, when you’ve generally had someone else to fall back on, and always had a not too difficult way out, you will soon enter a profession of one sort or another and find that now people will depend on you to be there and perform your obligations without fail. You will acquire a spouse who will both share your burden and add yet more responsibilities to your life. Eventually you will find yourself a parent, and discover the most crushing responsibility of all. Your own childhood will finally end with the beginning of another.
If you fail in these responsibilities, most especially the last, you have failed in the most crucial test of your life. That knowledge is what the trap is made of.
There will be many good moments, of course. Some of the friends you’ve made here will be friends forever, and you will find many more. You may actually find work that you enjoy. And there is nothing so fulfilling as to hold your newborn child for the first time.
But the good moments have their price. Up until this point your life has centered on learning. This is now changed. Now the focus of your life is centered on doing, and the grades you will get in the real world will be far harsher than any you’ve complained about here.
I had quite seriously planned on staying young forever—as you all surely do—but it came to be a few years ago that somehow I had failed, and it had all caught up with me. There were compensations: a wife I love, my children, good friends, and a fairly comfortable life—but it was not a pleasant realization to know that my options were effectively at an end. It was less pleasant to realize that there was no one to be blamed but myself.
Thank God—I was wrong. There was a way out of the trap. It took me a few more years of dabbling to find it, but it was always there, waiting to be discovered.
There is a defense against the trap into which you are all about to embark, and the defense is within yourselves.
Each of you has a dream. Perhaps you have shared it with your closest friends, perhaps you have not, but within each of you is something you want to accomplish for yourself. The ultimate defense against growing old is your dream.
I will now give you your last lesson in metaphysics.
Nothing is as real as a dream. The world can change around you, but your dream will not. Your life may change, but your dream doesn’t have to. Responsibilities need not erase it. Duties need not obscure it. Your spouse and children need not get in its way, because the dream is within you. No one can take your dream away.
Each of you has something that you want to do with your life. It may serve others. It just might make the world a better place. But if nothing else, its fulfillment will help to make you the person you want to be—and everyone around you will profit by that. Your dream is the path between the person you are and the person you hope to become.
The only way that your dream can die is if you kill it yourself. If you do that, you will have condemned yourself along with it. You will never be able to blame another for that. Failure, like success, is something that you will make for yourself. You will always have that choice.
Success isn’t money. At most, money is nothing more than a convenient way to keep score. The criteria for your success are to be found in your dream, in yourself. These criteria are called ideals, and as they are the substance of dreams, so also is their achievement the definition of success.
It is within the power of each of you to fulfill that dream. It will not be easy. It will require sacrifices of one sort or another, but whatever you can dream, you can also do. Your education has given you the ability to choose a dream worthy of what you are, and the means to accomplish it.
If you fulfill your dream, your quest has not ended. At the end of the first rainbow, there is another. As you grow, so will your dream.
Your dream is the best expression of yourself. Your dream is something to hold on to. It will always be your link with the person you are today, young and full of hope. If you hold on to it, you may grow old, but you will never be old. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the ultimate success.
This is your day, and I do not wish to take any more of it away from you. In getting this far, you have fulfilled your parents’ dreams. Now you can start working on your own.