My Speech To The Graduates

May 17, 2013

For reasons I still don’t fully understand I was invited to give the graduation commencement address this year at Catalpa University. I took it as a special challenge. I wanted to offer the graduates advice that was both tailored to their particular experience and that didn’t repeat the same advice, however good, that they’d heard most of their lives.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Class of 2013: Sleep late. Wear bolo ties to expensive restaurants. Be careful when venturing out into the world. If something catches your eye you could spend the rest of your life half blind. Assume everything you put on the internet will stay there forever, but also assume that even a really good search engine won’t find most of it. Ask a physicist why nothing is faster than the speed of dark. Prance. Take test drives in expensive cars and don’t return them until the gas tank is almost empty. Always save bacon grease, because you never know when you might have to feed a bowling ball to a polar bear. Eskimos don’t really have seventy-two words for snow. They call it “snow”, and “Eskimo” is really just a blanket term for people who could always use more blankets. The Egyptians and Mayans built pyramids at roughly the same time, but on different continents. This is probably why their pyramids look so different. Aristotle wrote only one book of Poetics. The second one was done with mirrors. At some point in your life you will be asked to do something that violates your ethics, your morals, or your integrity. Possibly all three. When confronted with this situation, ask, “Can I get butter on that?” Do you ever wonder why vitamins F-J haven’t been discovered yet? Do you ever wonder why you never meet anyone named Aloysius anymore? Do you ever have trouble buying a pair of pants that fit? Don’t believe commercials that treat blood glucose monitors as fashion accessories. Was there really a time when men would leave bottles of milk on everyone’s front porch in the morning, and, if so, how early did people have to get up to prevent it from going bad in August? Why did everyone wear three-piece suits and long, heavy dresses, even in the summer in Florida? If people in other countries really believed the streets in America were paved with gold did they ever wonder how expensive it was to repair potholes? Obviously some mysteries are best left for trained philosophers in hazmat suits. Some of your elders will tell you everything was better in their day. Some of those same elders will also tell you they envy all the things you have that we never dreamed of. Except some of us did dream of those things, otherwise you wouldn’t have them. As the French say, “je suis perdu,” which is French for, “That’s really not my bag.” At least it is if you don’t speak French.

Inspirational advice is like the joker that comes with every deck of cards. No one’s quite sure what to do with it, but everyone keeps it, even though they put it back in the box while playing. Please don’t take my advice, and don’t take anyone else’s either, unless you have permission, and even then you should do your best to return it within a reasonable time and as close as possible to its original condition. Fortunately if it gets damaged while you’re using it it’s pretty easy to replace. Advice is cheap and plentiful. I feel confident saying this because I know you’re not listening to any of it, and you won’t remember any of it. I don’t remember who spoke at my graduation ceremony, or what they said, although I am pretty sure I stayed awake through all of it, which is more than I can say for row twelve out there and, for that matter, about half the professors sitting behind me. I realize that most of you just see me as a barrier between you and the sheet of paper that you hope will allow you to get an entry-level job in something close to what you’ve studied. I’d like to close by saying good luck, but that’s a terrible way to close, even though you’re going to need all the luck you can get. You are not the future. Neither am I. We’re just along for the ride. Thank you. You’ve been great. And please tip your waiter.

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