Too Much Pomp Under the Circumstances

Now Playing: Refugee, by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. “Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some. Tell me why you will lay there, revel in your abandon. Honey, it don’t make no difference to me baby. Everybody has to fight to be free. You see, you don’t have to live like a refugee.”

We’ve been in Northern Virginia for a few days, primarily for my daughter Lauren’s graduation (OK, she and Nicki are technically my stepdaughters, but I’m not much on technicalities) from George Mason University. Nothing recharges the spirit of someone who tends to sometimes look at the dark and twisty side of things like being around young folk, and it was hard to leave the graduation feeling anything but optimism about the world after seeing some of the hands it will be in.

The optimism certainly didn’t come from the speaker – some guy who was about to become the dean of some department. He truly wasn’t worth remember. Not only was his speech bad, it was full of the standard cliches. Yes, he really did say, “It’s not an ending, it’s a beginning,” “Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” and “Each of you go out and change the world.” I griped about it on Facebook, and a friend wrote that her daughter’s speaker used the term “citizen-leader” in every other sentence. Which led her to ask, “Who’s going to do the following?”

That’s a damn good question, in my view.

Another question is exactly what would be a good graduation speech. Can’t say from mine. Don’t remember who spoke or a word of what he/she said. So I looked up the “hot” graduation speakers this year. Anderson Cooper of CNN was at Tulane. He couldn’t even beat Cheech Marin in celebrity Jeopardy! Who cares what he says? Stanford had Susan Rice. Who? Is she the woman who wrote the vampire books before the latest woman who wrote the vampire books? (Turns out she isn’t, she’s the U.S. ambassador to the UN. I still don’t care.) My own alma mater, UNC Chapel Hill, had John Grisham. Meh. I read A View to A Kill or whatever it was. It was OK. Notre Dame had NBC newscaster Brian Williams. Something about that guy rubs me wrong, I think it’s the fake sincerity.

So, anyway, I’ve been thinking about the best graduation speech I ever heard. And I swear I’m not kidding with what I’m about to leave you with as my entry for the best graduation speech of all time (the speaker is Rodney Dangerfield’s character in the underrated Back to School, which also features a young Robert Downey Jr.):

“I have only one thing to say to you today … It’s a jungle out there. You gotta look out for number one. But don’t step in number two.  And so, to all you graduates, as you go out into the world, my advice to you is … Don’t go. It’s rough out there.  Move back with your parents. Let them worry about it.”

Now that’s a relevant speech.


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