The following is not a graduation address.
One of the things I’ve discovered in my advancing middle age is the ability to admit that I bit off more than I can chew. That I was too big for my breeches. That I’m in way over my head.
As I began about six different graduation addresses, I found I actually had very little to say to a pack of college grads. I’m not famous, so I’d tread into the intensely boring area of talking about myself a little too much. I haven’t had much of a career, which hardly makes me the model alumna to give such a speech, at least at the hoity-toity place from which I myself graduated. I went to several graduation addresses for help. Jon Stewart’s at William and Mary was snarky and amusing, but very short on substance. Anna Quindlen’s at Mt. Holyoke was very serious, and charged the young women to stop trying to be perfect all the time. (I could have said that in one sentence.) I couldn’t find the one by Gloria Steinem that I heard her deliver ages ago, but I did find Nora Ephron’s from after my time. She was a hoot, and had good substance, humor, and encouragement for the students. But she’s 20 years older than I, and has had four careers and three husbands. I think I have a way to go before I’m really qualified for this.
In short, those kids are just going to have to sink or swim. They’re stepping into a viper pit as far as the world goes, and that’s a real downer to point out. The few things I have learned in the two decades since graduation barely fill an index card, and it’s hard to find a good rhetorical framework to fit them into. My life is a shocking political statement for most college grads who have been steeped in bleeding-heart liberal demagoguery for the past four years, and it would be impossible to avoid offending them (or being pelted with tomatoes, spoiled eggs, or—gulp!—shoes ). I’d be just as well off reciting what Michael Palin said at the end of The Meaning of Life: “Try to be nice to people. Avoid eating fat. Read a good book every now and then. Try to get some walking in. And try to live together in peace and harmony with men of all creeds and nations.” That would certainly save time and effort.
If I were to offer advice, it would end up sounding like Allan Sherman’s song, “Good Advice.” I would say that people are more important than things. I would say that when you’re traveling, halve the clothes and double the money. I would say that happiness comes from having spent less time at the office and more time with family. I would say that if God hadn’t meant for us to enjoy good food, friends, and time off, He wouldn’t have invented Shabbat and then commanded us to observe it. I would say, go ahead and eat dessert, but only after you’ve stuffed yourself on salad first. I would say, from the ashes of disaster grown the roses of success. And I would say, life is not a straight road, so make sure to have power steering.
And, since I believe that changing the world doesn’t only happen by heads of state, CEOs, and Hollywood stars and pop singers who meddle in politics, I would read a few lines from the last chapter of George Eliot’s Middlemarch aloud:
Dorothea herself had no dreams of being praised above other women… Still, she never repented that she had given up position and fortune to marry Will Ladislaw, and he would have held it the greatest shame as well as sorrow to him if she had repented. They were bound to each other by a love stronger than any impulses which could have marred it. …Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” I would say, Find your song and sing it.
So nu? What’d you all come up with? Anyone who actually wrote something has the Shimshonit Medal of Bravery coming to them.
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