Graduation Speaker: At Your Service

29 May

Do you know what I’ve discovered about the May/June season that has become more problematic than pollen?  Previously scheduled graduation speakers are dropping like flies due to protests of a very vocal minority—sometimes started by alumni with too much time on their hands.  Rutgers invited and then lost Condoleezza Rice, Smith wooed and misplaced Christine Lagarde, and Haverford pursued and finally said good-bye to Robert Birgeneau (Bush’s Secretary of State, Head of the International Monetary Fund, and previous Chancellor of the University of Berkeley, respectively).  Now, none of these “off-with-their-heads” speakers do I agree with politically or ethically, but they have led interesting lives that I might learn something from, if only how not to live.  Let’s just say that if I could listen to a graduation speech by Mitt Romney at Liberty University in 2012 and come away with something positive (“after hearing that speech, now I know he’ll never get my vote”), I think the Rutgers, Smith, Haverford crowd could have engaged in the same act of openness in the vote for educational toleration.

Commencement Speaker Nate Beeler The Columbus Dispatch

Used by Permission Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch

After the brouhaha over the choosing of the First Lady as the graduation speaker for a high school in Topeka, Kansas and Puff Daddy (Sean Combs) as a speaker for Howard University (he knocked it out of the park, by the way), one commentator noted that soon only Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy will meet the standards of acceptable graduation speakers in the future because you’ll always run the risk of pissing somebody off.   It was upon reading the commentator’s assessment that I had a brain fart:  Why don’t I become a substitute graduation speaker?  I used to be a substitute teacher so I’m used to turning on a dime.   I’d be the kind that could slip into place when a school, college, or university loses a former Secretary of State or a FLOTUS as a speaker, and they need someone at the last minute.  I could use a seasonal job now that I’m retired, and since I’m nobody, I could crawl in under the PC wire.  Plus, the selection committee could get me cheap, and I wouldn’t even ask for an honorary degree.  Condi Rice was charging $35,000 and a degree—I’d settle for considerably less (just my weight in bling).

Upon thinking it over for a couple of days, I pulled together a standard graduation speech, and I have started shopping it around: so far no nibbles.

Commencement Speech David Fitzsimmons The Arizona Star

Used by Permission:  David Fitzsimmons, The Arizona Star






President (FILL IN THE BLANK), Chairperson (FILL IN THE BLANK), Distinguished Guests, Faculty, Staff and Graduates of the Class of 2014:  It is such an honor to stand before you today and humbly share my view from the top of the last drop off the roller coaster ride of life because that is what recommends me to you.  I will be sixty-six-years-old in two weeks, and I figure—if I’m lucky—I’ve got about twenty good years left in me and then it’s goodnight Irene.  I am nobody, but I am a survivor and an overcomer, and I’ve learned some things about this crazy-ass life along the way.

To the Graduates:  Take a good look at your parents.  Right now your moms and pops, who haven’t slept easily since you were born, and who mortgaged their souls to educate you, look as dumb as rocks to you.  They just got comfortable posting pictures on Facebook, Twitter is barely navigable, and most of them are asking you, “What the Hell is Vine—I just got used to Instagram?”  But ten or twelve years from now, on the roller coaster ride of life, you will look back at them six cars behind you with great appreciation for their courage and wisdom (unless you’ve been raised by wolves—then all bets are off).  Because you’ll begin to realize that making your way on the planet Earth is some scary, Freddy Krueger shit [if high school graduation speech, substitute the word “stuff”].

To the Parents:  Do not let these people back in your house.  It’s time to have sex again without falling asleep in the midst of it because you’re so tired from being cook, counselor, coach, chauffer, play-date event planner, laundress, and housekeeper for them.  It’s time to reclaim their bedroom as your office and your “besides” (what you are besides being a mother or a father) while your mind is still functioning and your body remembers how to do the wild thing.  Don’t get me wrong:  help them with rent and groceries if needed, and invite them to dinner once a week so they won’t starve if you want, but if you become the default position when times get a little hard, they will be 55 before leaving home and will never become what you are:  overcomers and survivors.  You must help them stand on their own two feet ASAP because after the final roller coaster dip toward the great beyond in your life, you won’t be here to rescue them anyway.  Then what are they going to do?

Graduates Beginning Pat Bagley Salt Lake Tribune

Used by Permission: Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune 

To the Graduates:  To openly steal from Scott Peck of The Road Less Traveled fame, recognize that life is hard (very, very hard), but once you make peace with that truth, you’ll be okay, and you’ll be able to handle the suffering that is sure to come your way on both an individual and a national level.  On the other hand, there is no use worrying about what type of suffering will be your portion in life because none of the things we usually obsess about actually happen to us.  I know—it’s one of life’s conundrums.

To the Parents:  I’m not going to lie to you—worries about the suffering that our children might face on their journey as adults (debilitating loneliness and assault being two of the worst fears) is the stuff that will turn you gray overnight and keep you awake for days on end.  As parents, we secretly hope we’ve given our kids all they need to secure their mental health so that we never get one of those awful phone calls telling us our children have self-destructed or harmed another human being.  Unfortunately, there is no escape from these feverish nightmares (did we give them too much, did we not give them enough?).  Prayer helps a great deal, but the burden of worrying about their safety was all part of the owners’ manual we received when they were born—Taking Responsibility for Your Kid (Section 2B)—and it doesn’t stop when they turn eighteen.  (I know—I was surprised as you!)  It is what it is.  Sleeping aids help.

To the Graduates:  Don’t be afraid of making mistakes or making a fool of yourself, for that matter—it happens to the best of us and it is—by-and-large—survivable.  Think of the most embarrassing thing that could happen to you at this age (cutting the cheese while giving a presentation before the head of the department of your new job, perhaps, because you’re a nervous wreck and you mistakenly ate a questionable hot dog with sauerkraut before the meeting).  Remember that “this too shall pass” and you will live.  Should this happen, learn how to laugh at yourself as quickly as possible, realize that you will not die, and make a vow to never, ever, eat anything from the shady guy who owns the mystery meat stand outside your building.  Don’t worry—this will only happen once, because the lesson will be so engrained in your psyche that you’ll never repeat the humiliating mistake of eating said hot dogs again. That is how life lessons are learned.  Also, this may be a destiny sea-change—your segue into stand-up comedy, maybe.  Know that everything happens for a reason. Humor is a must and not taking yourself too seriously is a vital key to your success in life.

Graduate Jobs John Darkow Columbia Daily Tribune Missouri

Used by Permission: John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri

To All the Teachers, Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, Friends, and extended family:  Thank you!  The cliché is worth repeating: It really does take a village.

To the Graduates—A final word:  You are part of something bigger than yourselves and making it your personal quest to explore your individual spiritual journeys will make the difference between a life well lived and one that is not.  You were also born for this time and place—you have a destiny.  Don’t let anyone steal that truth from you.  Even if you were born in a toilet—your life is valuable and needed to complete the tapestry of those who will lead us on into the next phase of our history as a nation.  You’re not a mistake and you’re not an accident.  But you do have choices and none of them will be insignificant.  Choose wisely, grasshopper!  Be brave, be courageous, and know that you’ll receive everything you need to fulfill your destiny as you travel to all the places you will need to go to have a thrilling purpose-filled life.


Dr. Seuss Oh the places you'll go

Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go



“Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new…. Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition.”—Steve Jobs/Stanford 2005

“Be compassionate to everyone. Don’t just search for whatever it is that annoys and frightens you — see beyond those things to the basic human being. Especially see the child in the man or woman. Even if they are destroying you, allow a moment to see how lost in their own delusion and suffering they are.”Alice Walker, Author of The Color Purple, Naropa University in 2007

This day is the final test of your college years. What you do is what you WILL do. I ask you to approach this day with grace, grit and gratitude. This is not preparation for life, THIS IS LIFE.”– Wynton Marsalis/University of Vermont 2013

Graduates Steve Sack The Minneapolis Star Tribune

Used by Permission:  Steve Sack, The Minneapolis Star Tribune


Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Eleanor Tomczyk and “How the Hell Did I End Up Here?” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



Posted by on May 29, 2014 in Uncategorized


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20 responses to “Graduation Speaker: At Your Service

  1. Deborah the Closet Monster

    May 29, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Funny, true and thought-provoking–I would have enjoyed this more than any of my graduation speeches,

    (Mostly commenting so I remember to share when on my computer later.)

    • etomczyk

      May 29, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      Thanks Deborah. It was fun stepping into that space in my imagination. Although, it does make one wonder how Condi Rice was going to be paid $35,000 for a speech that probably wouldn’t have included anything more than what I came up with.

  2. Anne

    May 29, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    My youngest son is graduating from high school in two weeks so you hit a bull’s-eye for me today. I especially liked your final words to the graduates and your advice to reclaim my “besides.” Great stuff all around!

    • etomczyk

      May 29, 2014 at 8:26 pm

      Hi Anne. So glad you stopped by. Congrats on your son graduating. It is amazing how quickly they grow up. Both my girls are in their 30’s, but it seems like yesterday they were graduating HS. Thanks so much for your lovely compliments. All the best.

  3. Let's CUT the Crap!

    May 29, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    You always have me on the floor. Best darn graduation speech I ever heard (not that I’ve heard many).
    Sign here, please. You’re h.i.r.e.d.

    • etomczyk

      May 29, 2014 at 8:28 pm

      Hey Tess. Are you over your jet lag yet? So glad you enjoyed this piece. It was fun writing it. Take care.

      • Let's CUT the Crap!

        May 30, 2014 at 5:57 pm

        You always sound like you’re having fun any time I read your posts. “-)

  4. Elyse

    May 29, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    You rock!

  5. talesfromthemotherland

    May 29, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    Having just attended my son’s college grad (last week) and my nephew’s (3 wks ago) I can say that you would have been a fun speaker to have! I gave a lot of this advice in a recent post, and spoke to graduation let downs in the Grass is Greener one (you’ve missed a few, as you rock that book tour business, no doubt!), but you have nailed some wonderful points on the head, E! Love your dynamic voice… whatever the topic. No doubt, the crowd should be on their feet right now. 😉

    • etomczyk

      May 29, 2014 at 8:45 pm

      Dawn: Congrats on your son graduating college. You must be so proud. I’ve definitely been on the move recently and will be for a while. Never saw your post on graduation. Appreciate you stopping by and reading mine, though. Cheers!

      • talesfromthemotherland

        May 30, 2014 at 10:57 am

        I hear you! I’ve been on a plane, or rushing around for weeks now! Tis the season… hope the book sales are going well? You haven’t posted that much about it, but I’m assuming you’re working on that movie deal. 😉

      • etomczyk

        May 30, 2014 at 12:31 pm

        Dawn: Book sales are going well. Publishing a book makes one an immediate small business owner, wearing the hats of CEO, Chief Marketing Officer, and Head of Research and Development. Even though I’m immensely enjoying the ride, I don’t post about it because 1) this stuff is only interesting to me; it’s a giant yawn to my audience, 2) I’d rather use what little time I have to write to do so creatively in order to hone my writing skills and/or start my second book, which is underway. And, yes, I am working on that movie deal. Have a great weekend!

      • talesfromthemotherland

        May 31, 2014 at 5:54 pm

        You rockstar, you! 😀 (and clearly it’s not boring to all of your readers)

  6. imagesbytdashfield

    May 29, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    You know what? I don’t recall either of my graduation speakers speeches. Oh wait! I do recall one speaker being so bloody boring we clapped not because of his speech but because it was over!

    • etomczyk

      May 29, 2014 at 8:47 pm

      Same here TD. Don’t remember a one. . .Can you believe that some of these speakers can receive as much as $35,000? You and I are in the wrong business. 🙂 Take care.

  7. Valentine Logar

    May 29, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    You would be excellent. I think you are underselling yourself. Really, get out their woman.

    • etomczyk

      May 29, 2014 at 8:56 pm

      Hi Val. I hear you, but how do I get them to pay me what Condi Rice is commanding for graduation speeches; $35,000? 🙂

      • Valentine Logar

        May 29, 2014 at 9:19 pm

        Work it woman, in all your fabulousness just work it.

  8. Hudson Howl

    May 30, 2014 at 9:31 am

    ‘e’, I mean ‘E’, you must be 101 feet tall. You always see the big picture. You mapped the path to growing an growth precisely as it happens. An enjoyable read this was. Truly.

    • etomczyk

      May 30, 2014 at 12:23 pm

      Thanks Hudson. Having had a front row seat on two occasions, I think I could teach a course on the journey. Maybe that is the answer to the hassles of landing a graduation speaker: must have been a parent and survived. Take care.


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