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.
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.
Used by Permission: David Fitzsimmons, The Arizona Star
ELEANOR TOMCZYK’S ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL GRADUATION SPEECH
CURRENT STATUS: RETIRED/LIFE SURVIVOR
AUTHOR OF: MONSTERS’ THROWDOWN
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?
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.
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.
HAPPY GRADUATION YOU MARVELOUS GIFTS OF GOD!
Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go
SNIPPITS OF GRADUATION SPEECHES
“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
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.