||A Few Words Before You Graduate
by Mad Dog
the speeches are intended to educate, inform, and inspire, their true
function is to see who can sleep the longest with their eyes open without
snoring, drooling, or letting their chin touch their chest.
||Graduation day is one great
big Kodak moment — smiling families, proud professors, and beaming
students filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment. And well it
should be. After all, it’s the culmination of six or seven years of hard
work, intense studying, and waking up day after day wondering whose floor
you passed out on.
It's also an event full of pomp,
circumstance, and sheepskin diplomas that conveniently come with the messy
wool already shorn so you don't have to comb it before you have it framed.
Not to mention the stern lecture from Mom about how a cap and gown doesn't
mean a backwards baseball cap and a night gown. But before you pass
through the collegiate portals into the brave new world that awaits you
— known in many cultures as “waiting for retirement” — there's one
more obstacle you have to get through: the graduation speaker.
Also known as commencement because once
it starts there appears to be no end, the graduation ceremony consists of
three parts: the benediction, the speeches, and the butchering of the
graduates' names. The benediction is the shortest part. This is when a
priest, rabbi, or if you’re in California, a Tai Chi instructor, blesses
the graduating class, preferably after a group sneeze. Then come the
speeches. Speeches are to graduation ceremonies what the iron maiden was
to the Spanish Inquisition. While the speeches are intended to educate,
inform, and inspire, their true function is to see who can sleep the
longest with their eyes open without snoring, drooling, or letting their
chin touch their chest. (NOTE: Letting your chin touch the chest of the
girl sitting next to you automatically eliminates you from the contest but
increases the chances of your getting lucky on graduation night. Well, as
long as you're a guy and you don't pass out first.)
As a rule,
the bigger the school the bigger the speaker they attract. That’s why
it’s not surprising that this year Harvard snagged John Lithgow. Yes,
It starts with a speech from the president of the university. Then
the deans of each school take a turn. Next the provost speaks, even though
no one knows who this is, what he or she does, or that the title is
actually Latin for provolone, meaning “some kind of big cheese.” Then, just so they
won't feel left out and go on strike, the professors, associate
professors, undergraduate assistants, librarians, head groundskeeper, and
Bertha — the cafeteria worker with the hair net, weeping sores, and bad
attitude — each give a speech.
At this point anyone who hasn't already
committed suicide — or at least tried to call Dr. Kevorkian twice on
their cell phone — gets to hear the valedictorian speak. The
valedictorian is the student in the graduating class with the highest
grade point average, which is calculated by adding up the total dollars
donated by each student’s parents during the school year. The
valedictorian usually graduates summa cum laude, sometimes magna cum
laude, and occasionally pretends to know what all this means.
Then comes the guest speaker. While all
universities aspire to attract the top name speakers — like the
President of the United States, Stephen Hawking, and J-Lo — most have to
settle for less. This year the usual crop of speakers will show up,
including Senators, theologians, and robber barons masquerading as
corporate weasels. They’ll be joined, of course, by novelists,
activists, astronauts, and the one guy on the Jerry Springer Show
who didn’t get into a fight. Like anyone wants to hear that wimp talk.
Maybe I'm just jealous because no one asked me to speak at their graduation ceremony. This
is a shame, because I know what I'd tell the students.
As a rule, the bigger the school the bigger the speaker they
attract. That’s why it’s not surprising that this year Harvard snagged
John Lithgow. Yes, the actor. Of course this is only because Montana Gov.
Brian Schweitzer was already booked to speak at — True Fact Alert! —
the Chief Dull Knife College graduation ceremony in Lame Deer. Yes, right
this moment there’s a father of a Harvard grad-to-be who is screaming,
"You mean I just paid more for your education than I did for our
house and all we get is a speech from the guy who acted opposite
"But Dad, he earned millions for Harry
and the Hendersons."
"Is he single?"
While Lithgow isn’t exactly in a
league with the school’s past two commencement speakers, lightweights
Kofi Annan and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, he does have the
distinction of being a Harvard alumnus, proving that being a legacy has
its advantages. At least University President Lawrence Summers should be
happy with the booking. After all, everyone knows actors are genetically
wired to be good speakers.
Maybe I'm just jealous because no one
asked me to speak at their graduation ceremony. This is a shame because I
know what I'd tell the students. First, stop fidgeting in your seats.
Second, quit asking your neighbor who the hell this Mad Dog character is.
Third, don't talk during movies. Fourth, hold your breath until Dad takes
back the '66 Valiant he gave you for graduation and buys you a brand new
Chrysler 300C. And finally, go into this world using everything you
learned in college and do what you do best: get drunk, pass out, and wake
up tomorrow wondering whose floor it is you slept on. Now get out of here,
I've got work to do.
©2005 Mad Dog Productions, Inc. All
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. They
may even print your name when you graduate.