(An organist plays “Pomp and Circumstance” as the author steps up to the lectern.)
Honored graduates of this institution of higher learning; underpaid instructors and counselors willing to grade on a curve; and parents and relatives frankly surprised to be appearing at the ceremony this year instead of next—welcome.
I am delighted to have been invited. For years, the same sixteen drones have been giving all the commencement speeches around here, picking up fat honoraria and deducting their cummerbunds as a business expense. It’s been eating me up inside. Why should wealthy industrialists be the only ones who get away with quoting Kurt Vonnegut without attribution?
The fact that I never graduated from anything loftier than high school should not be viewed as a negative. On the contrary, because I’m not burdened with opening bales of solicitations from alumni fundraising organizations, I can devote more time to the philosophical observations I know you graduates are anxious to hear as you head out onto the frontage road of life.
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 those piercings made it possible to smuggle in the shotgun under his graduation gown. Thank goodness the pep squad was packing and that we were able to resolve this little contretemps with a minimum of ammunition.
It is encouraging to see so many of you here today after the trauma of the tornadoes in April.
I understand none of you was actually affected by the storms, but many of you had to double up on your Ritalin scripts because of all the information crawls in tiny, tiny type that rolled across the screen on every channel for so long.
Oh, well. It’s just a blessing that so many got to see Charlie Sheen in person in Tuscaloosa before he assumes his position in the pantheon of television history alongside Pernell Roberts and Delta Burke.
And speaking of divine intervention, let me return to the topic of graduation. You will be walking out of here today possessing a thing unique: an Alabama education. Despite the interference of career bureaucrats, AEA lackeys and ambitious school board representatives, your teachers have overcome the formidable resistance of your short attention spans and essential indifference to anything beyond your own nerve endings, managing somehow to stow crucial information in your crania 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 Blackberries and Facebook would have you believe. People who read are rarely surprised by traffic signs and do not have to resort to Twilight novels as literature. People who write really want to direct.
There are inspiring examples throughout history of men and women who have read and written. Don’t let these discourage you. Your literacy need not brand you as a freak among your peer group. Try to avoid displaying interest in any reading matter thicker than a Pizza Hut menu outside your domicile. Explain to your friends that you only go to bookstores for the latte. Nevertheless, should you start getting the skunk eye from your buds because of too much perceived education, a simple phrase will relieve social pressure: “Hey, did you see Jerseylicious the other night?” Members of the class of 2011, as you begin to pile blocks in the great Tetris game of life, you should come to terms with some sobering realities. For instance, those of you hoping for a career in entertainment need to recognize that it is too late to become a prodigy. In a world where Justin Bieber is heading over the hill, you waited way too long to get started. Take heart, though, because more karaoke venues open every day.
You all 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 beer ads, your hair will never be as shiny and manageable as shampoo spots suggest it could be, and even if you could afford a Dodge Charger, it would make you neither fast nor furious.
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. Assuming, of course, you can even find a job in that brief, precious interval before you decide you have to move back in with your folks. 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. Be sure to tip your counselors. Thank you and good grief.
[The organist switches to “Living On A Prayer” as the author exits via a rear door.]
Courtney Haden is a Birmingham Weekly columnist. Write to email@example.com.