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Celebrities don’t surprise me often. Big-name actors and musicians all tend to think, talk, and act alike. They aren’t all Lindsay Lohan, but they all seem to fall somewhere on the continuum of which she is merely an extreme.

This week, however, Ashton Kutcher, of all people, surprised me. His acceptance speech at the Teen Choice Awards has gone viral, for a good reason. But let us pause and ask, why on earth do we even have awards for the teens’ choice? I can offer no rationale. Let us resume.

In his speech, he reveals that his real name is actually “Chris.” This revelation is not what surprised me. The surprise came when he decided to tell his audience the three life-lessons that he learned before he became Ashton.

First, he tells the screaming teens to work hard. He says, “I believe that opportunity looks a lot like hard work.” The surprising thing is that he doesn’t just tell the kids to work hard in school. He doesn’t just tell them to use their brains. He tells them that it’s okay to sweat. He lists a variety of menial, unpleasant jobs that he held before he became Ashton. He finishes this first point with these words.

I’ve never had a job in my life that I’m better than. I was always just lucky to have a job. And every job I had was a stepping-stone to my next job. And I never quit my job until I had my next job.

These are words that American teens desperately need to hear. I teach college-age students, and the attitude of entitlement overwhelms me at times. Society has taught them for years that they are too good for certain kinds of work. Children who drink too deeply from this poisoned well will eventually begin to think that they are too good for any kind of work.

Kutcher’s second piece of advice is a little less surprising. He says, “The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart and being thoughtful and being generous.” This advice is a bit more conventional, but it’s nice that Kutcher explicitly tells these teens that marketing departments try to make us feel like we lack something in order to profit from us.

As for this third piece of advice, I seriously doubt that he learned this as Chris. Kutcher shares some of Steve Jobs’s wisdom that Kutcher gained while working on his biopic. He tells the audience, “Build a life. Don’t live one. Build one.” This too is advice that my college-age students need to hear. Too many American teens go to college in order to “get a good job.” Too few of them realize that there’s a better path.

Did Steve Jobs get a good job? Did Chris/Ashton Kutcher? Our youngsters should be focused on chasing the entrepreneurial dream rather than settling into someone else’s. College should be about creativity and curiosity, not job training. Careers should be about creating services and products for the good of society, not punching a clock.

So, yeah. Ashton Kutcher surprised me this week. I hope that the message will get out. I hope that some of my incoming freshman are planning to surprise me.

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