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Jewish World Review June 6, 2002 / 25 Sivan, 5762

Michael Long

Mike Long
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Stay Awake, Grads, I'm Almost Done Talking

Life, and How to Live It | There is nothing so flattering, no parallel opportunity for such remarkable heights of self-congratulation, as being asked to deliver a commencement address. Not having been asked this year (again), I nevertheless speak from quite a plateau of positivity (Alliteration-always a nice touch in speeches like these!) and with an aura of optimism (Ha, that's two!).

Why, you ask? Because, even though I have built up mountains of egomaniacal self-inflation in the course of my days, I am confident yet that when I am eventually asked to deliver a commencement to some school uninformed enough to ask me, those mountains will be as nothing compared to the case of bighead I plan to contract.

In anticipation, therefore, I have been working on that speech for some time now, dictating golden ideas into a tape recorder, tapping prose into a Palm Pilot, and most often scratching homilies onto a napkin with a dried up Bic pen while driving well beyond-oh, let's just pick a round number-70 miles per hour on the racetrack we know here as the Capital Beltway. Here's what I have so far:

Graduates, parents, disinterested siblings, naïve junior faculty, and you, that guy with the broom in the back waiting to sweep up, thank you for the attention you are about to grant me, as if I have something to say that you couldn't figure out on your own.

My friends, life is like… oh, like it matters. You and I both know that commencement addresses are merely clotheslines from which pious yahoos hang pious platitudes that no one, least of all the speaker of such lines, has any intention of carrying out. "Learn from your mistakes!" he'll say. "Follow your dreams!" he'll cry. "Remember your roots!" you'll hear. Well, gee. As if you couldn't have figured that out by yourself reading Hallmark cards.

What graduates need is the aural equivalent of a modest check from grandma, a $20 bill's worth of a useful rule. Yet all you get is philosophy and blah blah and who cares. This speech is no place for big ideas. Ha-anything of that nature that sticks, you'll have to figure out on your own, most likely after an unplanned pregnancy announcement from your wife or a "the job's in Anchorage" speech from your husband.

So here's what I have for you: simple rules worth a little more than your flitting attention but worth less than your deepest consideration. Next to having no speaker at all at graduation-and, given the commencements I've suffered through, that's the best choice-the next best thing is hearing from someone who has something practical to say. And if it's at least modestly entertaining, that's even better.

So here's what I think you might like to know. If you've already figured these out-you kids today, you're so smart, I hear-then just zone out for a moment or two. I'll be done in no time, promise.

Graduates, don't count on food at the party.

The line is always slow. No, not just your line, smart guy. Every line.

Resting is a part of working. Not only does this make a great excuse, it has the benefit of sounding profound and true while hardly being either.

Expect delays. Especially in lines, which as I mentioned are slow.

You'll get more done if you're nice about it, but sometimes you're going to get to the end and still have to be a real bastard anyway.

Big words only impress people who don't know what they mean. Consider that professor you had last semester.

If the map says one thing and your intuition says another, go with the map. Unless you got the map off the Internet. In that case, just wing it.

Give yourself time to park. And bring change. Mostly quarters.

Don't try to imagine what it's going to be like when you're older. Can't be done.

Never underestimate the bright future of a socially inept pest. This may be you.

Fractions are going to turn out to be more important every day of your life than you ever imagined. Same deal with percentages. But not calculus, not even for engineers. Sorry, Poindexter.

There is not one desirable woman on the face of this earth who thinks that a Star Trek or Star Wars obsession in a man is cute.

There is so much more to say, graduates, but I have spoken the minimum amount of time required to receive my honorarium, which I am informed is a XXL T-shirt emblazoned with an image of your fine school's mascot. As I'm always up for new clothes, I bid you goodbye, good luck, and whatever.

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JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Michael Long