Monday, May 14, 2012
My Commencement Address
Yippee-kai-yay, mother f***ers.
LYING TO THE KIDS. It's the season of banal commencement speeches. Prompted me to think what I would say if, perish the thought, anyone asked me. So I wrote a speech. About 30 minutes worth. I know you believe I don't care who I offend or what anybody thinks, but I ran my draft post past two people whose opinion I respect. Neither liked it, yet neither would actually tell me it sucked. Too dark, though neither would say it in so many words. Just polite hints. One thought it should be posted anyway, the other hedged. I value their opinions so much that I'm only going to post the setup. Make of it what you will. I won't post the rest of it unless people are interested. Responding to the setup with your own thoughts doesn't count as voting to see mine. As I reread it, they're right. Too dark. But love of darkness (i.e., libertarian joie de Robespierre ecstatique) doesn't count as a vote for seeing it. Only intelligent curiosity counts. (f you're nice about it, you can ask what I said about individual items...) Otherwise, you get to make the rest of the speech up for yourselves.
I'm going to break a bunch of rules today, but breaking rules is something you know all about. You're the future of our nation. You're ready for the next step. You're well prepared to embark on the adult phase of your lives and move into leadership positions in every realm that will make us all proud. I've been observing you throughout your lives so far, and the only way I can think to show you how impressed I am by your unique level of maturity, vision, and moral fiber is to remind you of a very few things the great new millennial generation may have missed along the way. Catch up on these little details and you'll succeed in all your loftiest ambitions to change and improve the sorry world we've bequeathed to you.
Actually, this is the first rule I'm breaking. Commencement addresses are supposed to hit on between three and ten points of emphasis, because it's a well known fact that even the most brilliant audiences can't process more than between three and ten bullet points. But I'm going to do you the honor of listing more than 20 points. Because you are all so f***ing smart. Oops. Another rule broken. Maybe I have your f***ing attention now. Here goes.
Say please and thank you.
Don't leave your toys all over the floor.
Clean your room.
When grownups are talking, be quiet and listen.
The world doesn't revolve around you.
Money doesn't grow on trees.
Do your chores or there will be no allowance.
Don't talk with your mouth full.
Clean your plate or there's no dessert.
Don't jump on the bed.
If you tell a lie, I'll wash your mouth out with soap.
MomSpeak: Wait till your father gets home.
DadSpeak: I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it.
You're not too old to get a spanking.
Never hit a girl.
Don't hit your brother. He knows he's not allowed to hit you back.
Quit crying. I don't care who started it.
I shouldn't have to tell you to do your homework.
If somebody's bullying you, punch him in the nose. Bullies are all cowards.
Make yourself a sandwich.
Cut your own damn meat. And don't saw at it like a baby. Cut it cleanly.
Stand on your own two feet.
Just because everybody else wants to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge doesn't mean you have to.
Of course we love you. That doesn't mean we can't be disappointed in you.
Always be fair. Especially to people you don't like or approve of for any reason.
You're not leaving the house dressed like that. Period.
You're never too old to be spanked.
Then I proceed to explain why I think this list is important. I'm sure you have your own ideas why or why not. You're disqualified from offering an opinion if any woman handled your utensil needs beyond stab with a fork and jam in your mouth after puberty.
otoh, the more I see the bald list, the more I like the idea of standing up before a graduating class, reciting it, and sitting down again. Once a punk, always a punk.
ADDENDUM: As promised, here are specifics, beginning with Apoth's nonspecific but relevant question about why my treatment of "Erma Bombeck" platitudes might be dark:
I know you're not all good at math, in this case, counting. I understand. It's 27 points. Which is a magic number to the juvenile cognoscenti. It's the number of years you have to survive to outlive Joplin, Morrison, Cobain, and innumerable other heroes of youth culture. Which, I believe, may be the modern measure of when a person can be considered to be an adult. I mean, there are third grade jokes -- pull my finger -- and sixth grade jokes, which are mostly about farting, and ninth grade jokes, which are mostly about boobs, and freshman college jokes, which are mostly about binge drinking and casual sex, and college graduate jokes, which are mostly, well, you. People who in previous generations were rightly assumed to be incipient adults ready for responsibility and worthy of trust are now puffed up hobbits -- I know you know your fantasy lit better than other book length bores, which means you know the teen years of hobbits are followed by the tweens, and adulthood arrives closer to 30. Because the biggest rule I'm going to break is to tell you you're not ready for what's to come. No matter how smart and ambitious and confident you are, your commencement is the edge of a cliff. And I'm not speaking merely of the Obama economy.
A lot of you aren't going to make adulthood at all. Some of you, maybe even many of you, are already irretrievably lost. In the old days, when there were things like World War II, with everybody's fate in the balance, both volunteer and drafted recruits were introduced to the military by an officer who said, "Put your right hand on the left shoulder of the person next you." Which I will ask you to do now. I mean it. DO IT. Then he would say, "The person you're touching may not survive the challenge we face." And I am saying that to you right now as well. To demonstrate, I'll zip through the points I listed before. Believe me. I know your attention spans. This will go fast. The list consists of things parents used to teach their children and no longer do, not for a long long while. They were a survival code. Without it, you're more or less helpless prey for what awaits you in the world you're entering today.
Lake asked about these items in particular:
I shouldn't have to tell you to do your homework. I know I'm way too late on this one. And if you ever did your homework, you plagiarized it from the Internet. If your concluding argument is a YouTube link, you're already destined to be a ward of the state.
If somebody's bullying you, punch him
in the nose. Bullies are all cowards. Yeah. Who the hell remembers
real fathers? They were absolutely right about this. Every guy who ever
became a man knows that a victim who stood up to a bully gained allies
thereby, even if he lost the fight. Standing up is the important thing.
The life and death thing. Nobody else can do that for you.
You're not leaving the house dressed
like that. Period. Horribly enough, the one old parental cliche
that turned out to be more important than all the implicitly moral
stuff. And the one parents forgot most completely as well. Raise your
hands: How many of you have tattoos? How many tramp stamps, girls?
Meaning, how many of you 21st century feminists have such withered self
esteem that you feel obliged to provide supplementary reading matter to
the guy who's f***ing you from behind, as if he were reading the
Sporting News on the toilet? How many have already published your
tattoos on Facebook? And don't think you guys are off the hook. When
you're bidding for partnership at the Wall Street law firm of Me,
Myself & Obama in 2026, are you going to be hiding behind towels in
the squash court locker room the same way your sister will be ordering
custom bridal gowns to hide the "Pulled a Train at Yale" ink on her
right shoulder and forearm?
dj moore wants to see these:
Never hit a girl. The sexes
aren't the same. This rule is a symbol for a much deeper philosophical,
even metaphysical, point: Never hit
a girl. If you haven't learned it yet, you are doomed, whether you know it or
I think that's it for now.