05/28/2014 12:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Frank Underwood Graduation Speech: The House of Cards Guide To Life


This past weekend, I attended my niece's graduation at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest, and I was surprised to see that the keynote speaker for the commencement address was Francis J. "Frank" Underwood, the master manipulator politician from the popular Netflix series, House of Cards. Below is a transcript of his remarks (don't worry, no spoilers)...

Board members, faculty, alumni, parents, and graduates of the class of 2014, I am honored and humbled to be standing here before you today to deliver some final words of wisdom before you are set free into this great big red, white, and blue-blooded clusterf*ck of a democracy of ours.

Look at you all out there with your bright, shiny, innocent faces--full of hopes and dreams and exciting futures ahead of you. It reminds me of how a flock of sheep appears right before the truck to the slaughterhouse pulls up.

Today's ceremony takes me back to my own college days at the Sentinel, my beloved South Carolina alma mater. Thank God we didn't have Google back then because there's no way I would have been elected to public office without some scandalous YouTube video T-boning my campaign. You think I'm kidding, don't you? Some of the school boy pranks I pulled with my a cappella quartet, The Riflemen, would make even the Internet blush.

Now, I'm sure most of you would've preferred your commencement speaker be a more famous celebrity, such as Jay-Z, Oprah, or Ryan Gosling than an old, snaggle-toothed war horse like me. Yes, fame can be a powerful elixir--but true power is like an endless frat party where the keg never goes dry. Washington D.C. has often been labeled "Hollywood for ugly people"--but who do you think George Clooney or Sean Penn calls when they get busted at The Mayflower Hotel with three prostitutes and an eight-ball? I can guarantee you it's not one of the Kardashians.

So, whether you're a binge-drinker or a binge-watcher, the path to success is filled with many obstacles. To quote myself from season 2, "For those of us climbing the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: hunt or be hunted."

No doubt your parents and professors have puffed up your soft, fragile, over-inflated egos these last four years with words of encouragement: 'You can do anything you set your mind to'. 'Dream big'. 'Work hard'. 'Make a difference'. 'Change the world and make it a better place'.

Well, these platitudes might be helpful if you're leaving elementary school, but they will do you no more good in the big soup than if you showed up at your first job interview wearing a backpack and offering to share your peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich lunch with the head of H.R. You don't get extra credit points for just playing by the rules. In fact, your adversaries will view your moral compass as a sign of weakness, and use it against you later.

Yes, the real world is not just a tired, lame MTV reality show--but rather, a dirty, nasty, scary place where the pay is low and long hours often go unnoticed. It can be a corrupt, soul-crushing existence, jam-packed with greedy, desperate, backstabbing whores--and those are just the interns!

Wait till you meet the VP's and above. They've been feeding at the trough so long--a well-oiled machine of kickbacks, tax loopholes, and insider investment deals--that they've forgotten what corporate responsibility even means. When you ride up the elevator with them to their penthouse suite, your name and face won't register unless there's a $10,000-dollar check stapled to your forehead.

Forgive me, I'm sorry. Judging by the deer-in-the-headlights looks on some of your faces, I can see I've struck a sour note. Perhaps my dark depiction of today's professional workplace is a tad cynical. But dealing with criticism is nothing new to me. During my time in office, I've been called everything from 'Machiavellan' to 'the Anti-Christ'. Thanks, Mom and Dad. Hypocrisy and narcissism are so underrated.


The sooner you come to understand the analogy that we adults are all ravenous animals searching for fresh meat--the better your odds are of moving up the scrap pile to the top of the heap. As we say in D.C., if you want a friend, get a dog. Or, better yet, put one out of its misery like I did in the series pilot episode.

For you graduates, today is a day of celebration, a well-deserved reward for all your tireless perseverance these past four years; however, for your parents, today is bittersweet because it officially marks the day that they must release you, their precious child, into the big, bad world.

Yes, your parents. The people who have mortgaged their own dreams and material happiness to support you in all your endeavors. It is difficult to let go of those we love, so my advice to you grads is this: cut 'em loose. They're dead weight. Emotional baggage. And move as far away as you can. The only contact you should have with them is their mailing address, so you can forward them your student loan bills. Trust me, the real world doesn't give a damn about how much mommy and daddy loved you--it only cares about the bottom line. Ruthless pragmatism may not be inspiring, but it is marvelously efficient.

And speaking of your personal life, you will be choosing a partner soon (and I don't mean that in a three-way one night stand sort of way), one of the most important decisions you will ever make. You're not only picking a lover and a friend--you're picking a running mate. And you need someone on the ticket that will help complement your crumbling values and shore up any sense of ethics. I knew right away when I met my Claire on our very first date. I took her to Freddy's BBQ Joint, and she reached across the table and stole the rack of ribs off my plate and stuffed it down her gullet, then dashed out the door without leaving a tip. It was true love at first bite.

In closing, I would like to leave you with this last bit of guidance--take it or leave it, at your peril. You are now leaving the lion's den and entering the pack of wolves.

Attack every day as if you're a stray, starving mutt backed into a corner. Trust your animal instincts, no matter what your vocation. Be clever. Be manipulative. Be voracious. And, yes, always, always be ruthlessly pragmatic. Your survival depends on it. There are savages at the door. Disaster lurks around every corner. Are you going to be a sheep or a wolf? A bear or a bull? A Taylor Swift or a Miley Cyrus? A Peyton Manning or a Richard Sherman?

Regardless of what your kind-hearted family and friends and teachers have taught you to believe--life is not a marathon or a sprint, or a journey. It's a hunt. And hunting season has just begun. Congratulations. I hope you're hungry.