(An organist plays “Pomp and Circumstance” as the author steps up.)
Honored graduates of this institution of higher learning; underpaid instructors and counselors willing to grade on a curve; parents and relatives frankly surprised to be appearing at the ceremony this year instead of next — I welcome you today to the crossroads of Studiousness and Diligence, adjacent to the intersection of Perspicacity and Zeal, just off the frontage road of Fortitude and two exits down from Excessive Verbosity.
Today we recognize the dweebs of yesterday as the leaders of tomorrow. And if we don’t recognize the dweebs, we’ll always have their sophomore yearbook pictures to jog our memory.
The fact that I never graduated from anything loftier than high school should not be viewed as a fail. On the contrary, because I’m not burdened with opening bales of solicitations from alumni fundraising organizations, I have been able to devote more time to the philosophical observations I know you graduates are obliged to endure today.
First, however, I’d like to commend your valedictorian for a thought-provoking address. Although I don’t believe Socrates used the word “dudes” quite as often as your class leader seems to think, it may be one of those new translations with which I’m unfamiliar.
Your salutatorian also made some interesting remarks, but, really, if he had that many issues about the grading of the calculus final, perhaps he should have raised them in a private conference with the teacher. I’m sure we’re all a little disappointed that the metal detectors at the auditorium doors weren’t more effective, but no doubt all those piercings made it possible to smuggle in the shotgun under his graduation gown. Thank goodness and the NRA that the pep squad was packing and that we were able to resolve this little contretemps with a minimum of rounds expended.
Today, you are no longer deadbeats, inert lumps, good-for-nothing sullen clods of couch fuzz. Simply by receiving this piece of sheepskin you are magically transformed into honored graduates, productive members of society, contributors to my eventual Social Security pension. God bless you for that. (That and using the rest of your natural life to pay off the trillions of dollars of debt the country ran up while you were busy studying quadratic equations and Silas Marner. We’d love to help you out with that, but, hey, we’re old. We don’t have to anymore.)
Speaking of divine intervention, let me return to the topic of graduation. You will be walking out of here today in possession of a thing unique: an Alabama education. Despite the interference of career bureaucrats and ambitious school board representatives, your teachers have overcome the formidable resistance of your short attention spans and an essential indifference to anything beyond your own nerve endings, managing somehow to stow in your crania crucial information that will assist you in not being featured in future editions of the Darwin Awards.
Many of you have learned to read and write. These are valuable skills, despite what the manufacturers of smart phones and the producers of Duck Dynasty would have you believe. People who read are rarely surprised by traffic signs and do not have to resort to The Hunger Games as literature. People who write really want to direct.
Members of the class of 2014, as you prepare to log on to this app called life, you must come to terms with some sobering realities about yourself. Your parents grew up in a world of Us and Them, a Cold War paradise of moral absolutism. You, on the other hand, grew up in a world less of black and white than of unremitting pastels. Naturally, you had no way to communicate with your parents, creatures so alien that the only Kardashian they knew about was a guy on O.J.Simpson’s legal defense team.
Encouraged by the greatest marketing economy Earth has ever known, you have been allowed to exist in your own substratum of society, endlessly cross-referencing photogenic nonentities and sequenced rhythm patterns in lieu of any genuine cultural assimilation.
You have spent a goodly portion of your waking hours watching commercials that depict a better life as being one product away. You have been cruelly misled. You will never find the camaraderie that exists in Dave & Buster’s ads, your hair will never be as shiny and manageable as L’Oreal spots suggest it could be, and you can’t drink enough Dos Equis to make you the most interesting man at your table, let alone in the world.
Now you are thrust into the real world, not the one that used to run all the time on MTV, but the one with jobs and taxes and zoning variances and repossessions and flush valves, with nothing but a diploma to protect you. Unless of course you’re going right back to school in the fall, in which case I’ll save these admonitions for a speech four years hence.
In case I have unnecessarily raised any hopes here, let me be clear. At no other time in the rest of your life will you achieve the autonomy over your destiny you have enjoyed these past brief years. You will spend the balance of your days performing tasks of consequence no deeper than the milk on which your morning Froot Loops float. Music will never sound as vital as it did in your sixteenth year and your sex drive will —
Oh, dear. The weeping is starting to drown out the PA system. No wonder I never get invited back to these things. What I meant to say is that everything I know, I copied off someone else’s paper in kindergarten, and that, putting on the shoes of righteousness, together we can trample out the vendors where the grace of rap is abhorred. Thank you and good grief.
[The organist switches to “Happy” as the author exits quickly via a rear door.]