2011 All-Purpose Commencement Address

Good afternoon faculty, staff, family, friends, and of course, all you soon-to-be debt bearers.  It’s such an honor to be here today to help pad out the length of this ceremony to one that justifies the amount of time and effort put into organizing and attending it. I hope that my tangential relationship to this institution — as made clear in the back of your programs between the origin of the school coat of arms and the lyrics to the alma mater — will in some way justify not only the next couple of thousand words, but the exorbitant fee I was paid to deliver them.  And, of course, the delay in the ultimate purpose of this entire gathering: the distribution of empty binders that will in 2 to 4 weeks eventually hold your degrees.

Now I know that most of you are probably still sending texts to your family and friends telling them which nondescript black cap and gown you are in this endless sea of nondescript black caps and gowns, while those family and friends are grateful they have smartphones to distract them until your name is called.  I’m sure statuses are being updated, check-ins are being made, and words are being played with friends.  Meanwhile, I’m making a humorous attempt at tying today’s ceremony to a recent current event, or maybe offering a joking definition of “commencement address,” all in an effort to assuage your fears that I’m going to be a lifeless dullard droning on and on for the bulk of this speech.  An assumption from which I will now proceed to remove all doubt.

Next I’ll be telling you about my initial period of indecision upon my own college graduation, the numerous jobs I held that had precious little to do with the degree I earned, and the eventual epiphany that led me to realize that coming back and talking to graduates about life after college was much safer and much more lucrative than actually dealing with it myself.  Yes, you’re receiving life advice from someone who didn’t have anything better to do on a Saturday afternoon in the spring.  And who, for some reason, still possesses the cap and gown in which I graduated fifteen years ago.

Then comes what I like to call the thesaurus section of my speech.  This is where I’ll reiterate the same points about perseverance and hard work over and over again, using slightly different words and phrasings, uttered in the order in which they came to me as I constantly realized there were better ways to say them, then never bothering to edit out the old ones.  Most of these can be found either in the “For the Graduate” section of a Hallmark Gold Crown store, or in Oh the Places You’ll Go.  That book is a gold mine, let me tell you.

You can rest assured that this reasonably well-known quote by a suitably famous person is the ramp up to my big finish.  Its familiarity is designed to shock most of you back into paying attention by referencing something that your brain recognizes, and thereby waking you from your stupor.  The words “bright,” “hope,” “tomorrow,” and “future” will be used in various combinations, although the bright future most of you are looking forward to is the moment you bolt for the exit as soon as your graduate’s name is called.  My tone will shoot for rousingly inspirational, but will be lucky to hit moderately convincing.  I will accept that, and move on to my conclusion.

Which will consist of thanking you all again, congratulating the graduates, and reminding the university to make the check out to my LLC for tax purposes.  Then I’ll return to my seat, praying that the smattering of applause lasts at least until I’m sitting again.  And that my smartphone hasn’t died so I don’t have to pay attention to the rest of this.

Thank you.


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