With Condoleezza Rice canceling her commencement address at Rutgers, Christine Lagarde withdrawing from Smith, and Robert Birgeneau bowing out of Haverford, this exceptionally controversial commencement season raises a basic question: Who — if anyone — qualifies as an "appropriate" graduation speaker? According to humorist Dan Zevin, the answer is obvious: he does. Herewith, the remarks he’s prepared just in case he’s asked to jump in.
Salutations and good tidings to the class of 2014. Today is a day to be met with youthful enthusiasm, steadfast commitment and powerful anti-anxiety medication. For today you stand poised on the precipice of Mount Tomorrow, searching for pomp in uncertain circumstances.
My friends, I feel your pain.
Long ago, I was much like you: a nervous young graduate forced to appear in public wearing a humiliating cap-and-gown ensemble. What the real world had in store for me, I did not know.
And yet, I persevered, learning the hard way the skills one needs to succeed. And now, as you approach the Starting Gate of Possibility, it is my honor to pass you the torch. Let the other commencement addressers puff you up with their pie-in-the-sky platitudes. I am here to dispense inspiration you will find far more useful.
As you set forth to negotiate the serpentine twists of your career path, you may occasionally find yourselves lost, confused, searching for a way to convince potential employers that your past jobs were vastly more professional than they actually were. It is at these junctures that I urge you to remember the impressive SAT words you memorized to get into college, and to apply them to your résumé.
Allow me to provide an uplifting yet fictionalized personal anecdote, a technique I have borrowed from my commencement-addressing colleagues. Many years ago, I spent an afternoon filing invoices at my father's office. Here is how that career appears on my résumé: principal alphabetizing-systems-implementation liaison.
Let the other commencement addressers puff you up with their pie-in-the-sky platitudes. I am here to dispense inspiration you will find far more useful.
Another question you are asking yourselves as you come to the Crossroads of Potential is, "Where will I be after college?" To you I say this: you will be in an apartment with more roommates than rooms. But as you take that titan step from dorm to dump, do not settle for the first dump you see. Look at many dumps, and in time, you will find that special dump that suits your needs. This is because the more you look, the fewer needs you'll realize you have. For here at the Tollbooth on Independence Turnpike, you do not need a microwave oven or a flat screen, internet-ready, high-definition television. You simply need a roommate who already owns these things.
Perhaps there is another question you are asking yourselves as you dive into the deep end of your destiny: "How will I adjust to life after college?" I will tell you how: by having a drink. Graduates, you heard that correctly. I said "a" drink. Singular. One. Of the myriad challenges that await you beyond these hallowed halls, the toughest of all will be that traumatic transition from keg to cocktail. I will not kid you by pretending it will be easy, for change never is. But I will assure you of this: in the years that lie ahead, the idea of drinking warm beer foam out a rubber hose connected to a garbage can will lose a certain amount of allure. And when it does, I am confident that you will rise to the occasion. For you are a generation of achievers. Soon you'll be achieving with one stiff cocktail what used to take half a keg to achieve.
In conclusion, I would not be doing my job as a commencement speaker if I did not leave you with some useful pearls of wisdom about the World That Is Your Oyster.
1. When in doubt, choose a career the same way you chose your college major: according to which ones start latest in the afternoon.
2. When reading classified apartment ads on Craigslist, remember that "fireplace" usually means "a place that was (or is) on fire."
3. Moving back into your parents' house is an excellent idea as long as you move your parents out first.
4. Treat your search for a perfect mate the same way you treat your search for a perfect job: lower your standards.
5. Above all else, keep two very important words in mind as you leave the Sheltered Shores of Scholarship to enter this strange new world — a world where the calendar no longer revolves in cycles beginning in September and ending in May; a world where you are expected to wake up each day before the sun sets; a world where job attendance is mandatory. Those two words, my young friends, are these: graduate school.