I am not a great fan of commencements. I think that is partly because I have been to too many. My high shule commencement had only one redeeming value – it was better than the baccalaureate sermon. But I still hated both. And I had to attend both because my parents, primarily my mother, made me attend. And I had no thought that I might not have to. In those days you didn’t think such things. I cannot recall anyone in my high shule graduating class questioning why we should be there.
I have no idea if it would have made a difference. I had already been admitted to college and that seemed to trump any value of the piece of paper. And anything, except a visit to dentist, in those days would have been better than going to commencement. And I had to wear new shoes. And it was held outside in a football stadium. And my parents had already moved out of town so I had to depart immediately after the ceremony to a summer of yuhhhhhhhh relieved only by freshman orientation at the campus of the Black Warrior.
I had to attend that commencement as well. Again, for my parents. Again no thought of not going. The ceremony was held in the basketball coliseum and it was only slightly less bad than the high shule commencement. For one thing, there were almost exactly ten times as many folks in cap and gown as at that commencement. The saving grace was that they didn’t call names. They just announced a degree and everyone getting that degree stood up – except the inebriated ones – and the dean or whoever pronounced us graduates. And since I ws the only one getting a triple major that year with a special nerd diploma, I got to stand up by myself. To a lot of tittering.
When it came time to commence at the campus of the Boneyard I was lucky. My parents didn’t want to drive up. And I didn’t want to go to another basketball coliseum. Especially that one. So I left campus early and they mailed me the piece of paper.
When it came time for the doctorate commencement at the campus of the Tennessee I had no choice. Post Hole Diggers had to attend. And my parents were there. Before the ceremony they gathered all the doctorate recipients in the pier (sp?) room. The room walled in mirrors with rails that the ballet folks practiced in. We sat on the floor and passed around pint bottles of whisky and whiskey in brown paper bags while the Chief Registrar, who was our nanny, played the Shrew. The we had to file in and sit on the front row in the Nazi Scientist Memorial Palace. I sat next to the guy who lost the draw for token presence from the medical shule. We played paper, scissors, rock. Then they made us troop up the steps to the stage, called our names one by one, hooded us, shook hands and conveyed piece of paper. I recall the dean of the graduate college was very short and I had to stoop down almost onto my knees so he could leap in the air and hood me. Then the president held onto my hand waiting for me to answer his question of what I had been doing with the pill pusher? And then I got my gown sleeve caught on the top of the stair railing and had to retrace two steps backwards to keep from falling down.
And then after the ceremony my father and I got smashed. Only time.
And when it came time for them to kick me out of the Yankee Army War College, it was about like being in high shule again. And instead of my parents, my wife and daughter were there. But otherwise it was the same. Outside. Too long. Dull as scraping a spoon on the bottom of a sauce pan.
Commencements are for mothers and wives. Not for graduates. And I cannot recall any of the commencement speakers or what they said except that it was stercus. One of my colleagues, Velocity Spin, posted a link [Link] to quotes from several recent commencement addresses. They are a mixed bag.
“I need the rest of you to help me fix the world. The rest of the world is getting stupider.” Neil deGrasse Tyson (Astrophysicist)
I am not a fan of most scientists speaking. Nor has Dr. Tyson ever impressed me, largely because his interests and mine are quite different. But this is different. I am not convinced the world can be fixed. But it is worth trying since the bogs are dragging us down.
“Think about what you thought college would be like, and what you expected yourself to be like. Now look at yourself. I’m going to hazard a guess and say that things totally didn’t turn out like you expected. This process will repeat itself ad nauseam throughout your entire life.” Adam Savage (Host: Mythbusters)
This is the sort of thing that looks good in a collection but that is probably all. I doubt any of the students, even the bogs, were very impressed, at least unless they were Mythbusters fanatics. It probably riveted and disturbed the parents though.
“Maybe the best decision for you is to run away and join the circus. But don’t model yourself on one of the animals, performing tricks for the trainers who throw peanuts.” Samuel Palmisano (Former CEO IBM)
This strikes me as the type of stercus in most commencement speeches. Underwhelming, uncomfortable, impractical, and alien.
“The problems of failure are hard. The problems of success can be harder, because nobody warns you about them.” Neil Gaiman (Author)
This one strikes me as useful. But then I know what he speaks of.
“You will be stupid. You will worry your parents. You will question your own choices, your relationships, your jobs, your friends, where you live, what you studied in college, that you went to college at all… If that happens, you’re doing it right.” Ira Glass (Radio Personality)
Mr. Glass is absolutely right. He scared the parents but I suspect was unheard by the students.
“No one is ever going to ask you to do the thing you really want to do. This will never happen. So just think about what you’d like to do, and then just start doing it.” Laurie Anderson (Multimedia Artist)
It amazes me how much good advice like this is wasted on artsy types. Perhaps it is because their failure rate is so close to 1.000 as to make little difference? Why can’t these talks be given to nerds? Nothing is more difficult for a nerd than to try to not do what they dream of doing. Compromise comes very hard for smart folks.
“Don’t look for jobs. Look for people.” Katie Couric (Journalist)
Gold plated stercus. Not that it isn’t without a bit of accuracy, but it just isn’t competent.
“Please don’t mistake what is happening here today. The fact that you are receiving a diploma from one of America’s finest institutions of higher learning does not mean you are educated.” Jim Lehrer (Journalist)
This amazed me. First, that two journalists in a row could have such variance; that the second would make almost as much sense of Tyson. And third, that this would be uttered at Jefferson’s alma mater.
“I have one message for you, class of 2012: Stay in school.” Robert de Niro (Actor)
This managed to adamantinely reinforce my attitude that actors are idiots whose mimicry makes prophets of them and leads society off a cliff.
I should also admit that I have declined several times to be a commencement speaker. Not from any extravagance of humility, just an adequacy of futility.