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Paul Ryan at Carthage

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan delivers an address at Carthage College commencement ceremonies Sunday.

KENOSHA — Paul Ryan wanted to be an economist after he graduated from Miami University of Ohio in 1992. But 24 years later, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives told the newest graduates of Carthage College not to worry too much about having a set post-graduate plan.

“Go where you can make a difference,” he said. “Sometimes fulfillment lies in very unpredictable places.”

The congressman, whose district includes all of Racine and Kenosha counties, delivered the commencement address to the 656 students receiving degrees Sunday at the N.E. Tarble Athletic and Recreation Center Field House. Ryan had the same honor a decade before in 2006, when he was awarded an honorary doctorate.

Throughout his address, Ryan emphasized the importance of taking advantage of opportunities regardless of whether they fit into your plan.

“The truth is, life can put your best-laid plans through the paper shredder,” he said. “You may never get that dream job, or if you do get that dream job, it may turn out to be a nightmare. But maybe you’re meant to do something else. What seems to you like a catastrophe could end up becoming opportunity.”

Ryan cited his own recent promotion to Speaker of the House as one of those opportunities. He never wanted the position, instead setting his mind to becoming chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, which he achieved in 2015.

“I soon realized that I can do this,” Ryan said about becoming speaker. “I actually like the job. Now I feel like the dog that caught the car that was never chasing it in the first place.”

That line drew laughter from the Carthage crowd, and not for the first time during his speech. The congressman frequently mixed in self-deprecating humor to lighten the mood. Some of his best lines:

  • “Doctor Ryan. I sound like a Tom Clancy novel.”
  • “This is a big moment in your life, and no matter how much fun you’re going to have tonight, you are bound to remember some of it.”
  • On when he graduated from college, before most of Sunday’s graduates were born: “1992. Seems like yesterday, doesn’t it?”
  • On his post-graduation plans: “I wanted to be an economist. That just goes to show you how fun I was in those days.”

But Ryan mostly stayed on message, even providing advice on not over emphasizing careers before humorously apologizing to the career services department.

“Beware, careerism in the wrong way is cynicism in perpetual motion,” he said.

Perhaps the congressman’s most poignant piece of advice was the one he started his address with. Ryan quoted an old saying (or, as he joked, one he made up a few minutes ago): “Marriage is for the couple. The wedding is for the family,” to describe graduation for the Carthage students.

“It’s their achievement just as much as it is yours,” he said. “And yet, they have gladly given you all of the credit. “

Ryan told the students to bear with their family members if they get teary-eyed and to respect their contributions to the students’ achievements.

“Thank them,” he said. “Appreciate them. They love you more than you will ever know.”

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