Pomp & Circumcise

by Bob Sparrow

     This week’s road trip is a virtual one to college campuses – much like how my college professors described my experience on college campuses – virtual. The ‘old’ definition of virtual according to my iPhone is ‘slightly short of or not quite accomplished’.  Yep, that sounds like something my professors might have said.  But I digress.

     This year will see 1,781,000 bachelor degreed students (That’s right, over a million and a half more people out there looking for jobs that aren’t there) sitting through their ‘last college assignment’- their commencement exercise.  Few of them will actually be paying attention to what is being said by their commencement speaker.  Pre cell phone, students who were mostly hung over, stared blankly into space as the speakers droned on.  Today, they’re tweeting, texting, taking pictures of that girl from Psych class who said she wasn’t going to wear anything under her gown, or they’re staring blankly into space.  It turns out students are well-justified in not paying much attention; most commencement speeches are either too pedantic or the start of some comedians summer concert tour.  This year students get the added advantage of having Obama and Romney preach to them about their responsibility to vote . . . for them.

     Advice has come from a wide variety of sources from Winston Churchill to Kermit the Frog.  Guess which one said, “Don’t be content to be a tadpole, work your tail off, get out of the swamp.”  Then there’s the famous ‘sunscreen’ speech.  It was supposedly given by Kurt Vonnegut in a commencement speech at MIT, but was actually written by newspaper columnist, Mary Schmich, as a commencement speech she would have given had someone asked her.  No one did.  In it she extols the virtues of flossing, singing, stretching, but most of all using sunscreen.  Jon Stewart, Will Ferrell and Stephen Colbert have given some truly humorous commencement speeches.  Pulitzer Prize winning humorist, Russell Baker’s comments to Connecticut College in 1995 still hits home today: “The best advice I can give anybody about going out into the world is this: Don’t do it.  I have been out there.  It is a mess.

      One that truly inspires, not only for what it says, but for who said it, is Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford in 2005, which included the following:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

     He finished his speech with, “Stay Hungry.  Stay Foolish.”

     If you guessed Winston Churchill on the question above, you got it wrong, but he is known for giving the shortest commencement speech on record.  He gave it to his old preparatory school, Harrow School, in 1941 – he was a bit preoccupied at the time.                                                                                                                                                           “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy”.

That’s it.  It strode off stage, lit a cigar and got back to the war.

     And finally, Matthew Gilbert, columnist for the Boston Glove gave the speech that no graduate wanted to hear:

     Unfortunately, after a final night of Dionysian revelry, you will awaken to a strange, frightening, and unfriendly world. A world in which you must sacrifice all you hold dear for a paycheck, a world that strips you of your youthful vigor, a world in which a truck driver is paid more than a teacher, a world in which the glass is always half-empty.  In short, you will become that which you had hoped never to be: your parents!”

Congratulations grads and welcome to the mess – you’ll get used to it.