Volume 76, Number 51 | May 16 -22, 2007

Talking Point

College commencement speakers: Don’t get me started

By Andrei Codrescu

College campuses all over the country have now heard commencementspeeches from every public person, from Bob Barker to myself. Bob Barker told graduates in Missouri that “Let’s Make a Deal” is a cult among the young because the set hasn’t changed since the ’70s. It’s one certainty in a wildly changing world, he assured them.

Colleges prefer their famous alumni for speakers, but some of them paytruly big money to hear wisdom from Dick Cheney or even his boss. Some colleges hire comedians only to hear them deliver pompously serious encomiums on world ills. Others hire grave political commentators only to be treated to a string of silly jokes. Many campuses still bet on coaches because they are sure of what they are going to get: advice on making sure your socks match before you go out to practice.

Movie stars are wild cards these days, because they espouse a variety ofcauses spanning the ideological spectrum, except for Global Warming, which they are all against. In the end, it doesn’t matter what the stars say, because warming a crowd is their only job and, global or not, they get people hot. If you’ve been on TV over a hundred times, you get people hot no matter what you look like or what you say.

Some places are really, really hot, though, and it’s no picnic sitting under a blistering sun in Texas wearing heavy academic robes while waiting your turn to speak, and then baking for another two hours while happy graduates parade by to wild cheering from their families, who believe (poor deluded things!) that their darling graduate is now ready to go out there, get a job and become self-supporting. When my first half of the baking was done, my name was called.

I hoped to be brief, but not brief enough so that nobody would remember me. I congratulated them on absorbing all that knowledge, on not overdosing or drinking themselves to death, and then I told them to see the world (without a gun) for a couple of years and help people get clean water, medicine and access to the Internet — so that they could all watch “Animal Planet” just like us.

I told them how bad it was to grow up under a dictatorship and how certain things like that are just bad, not like paper and plastic, which are either bad or good depending on who’s talking. I told them that War was bad, and that they shouldn’t believe anybody who tells them that the ongoing War is either good orbad depending on who’s talking. And then I enumerated the two primary needs of human beings, which are, in order: Water and Courage. I added: Courage, not Oil. (Because we were in Texas).

I then told them the stories of what happened to all my friends after they graduated from college, and some of these stories were not pretty. Some of these college graduates, now in their 50s, still live with their parents. I then told them (again) the story of my own life. Just kidding. What I really told them after the bit with the Water and Courage, is to not take a shower that night. They went wild at this. They loved it. We were all swimming in sweat. Then I sat down andbaked for another hour until I turned to water.

Next day I took a survey of people who graduated at least five years ago. Nobody remembered who their commencement speaker was, but they all agreed that it was hot (outside).


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