Sunday, May 13, 2007

End Of The Line: A Commencement Address

It is unlikely that I will ever be asked to deliver a commencement address. I am known for telling things as they are. This is not the kind of thing that is appreciated at commencement type events. However, if I were ever asked to deliver such a speech, these are the kinds of things I would have to say.

In the Prologue to his work Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche wrote,

"Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman—a rope over an abyss."

At an event such as a commencement, a speaker such as myself is expected to congratulate you for navigating the rope over the abyss and transforming yourselves into superpersons. Thus, in a cautious way, I will offer you congratulations. However, let me warn you, despite all the pride and pretty words, for many of you, you will find that the abyss lies ahead.

Around you sit your peers, your professors and your friends and family. Many of us are dressed up like you in crazy outfits. There will be hand shakes, there will be photos, there will be hugs and kisses. This should be a happy time. However, do not be fooled, in someways this event is not much different than a funeral, albeit one that is cleverly disguised.

In a little while, you will hear a speaker from the alumni association talk. They will give a predictable speech. Last time I counted, the speech had forty-two euphemisms in it for 'give us your money'. You have been warned.

You might ask why all the effort is made to go through such a ritual as this. This simple answer is this: money. Your University has discovered that you family and friends become suckers for 'official photographs', 'official videos' and other memorabilia. Thus, a good part of the purpose of this event is really not much different from some glorified infomercial.

The really sad part about it though is that for a large number of you, after all the talk of pride, achievement and other upbeat buzz words is done, you will almost certainly be left with a sense of bereavement.

For at least the last four years, you have been granted a fair degree of independence, with few responsibilities. You have been able to wear what you wish -- flip-flops, shorts and tee-shirts has become a common uniform for many of you. You have been able to arrange your own schedule, to a certain degree. You have been able to hang out with people your own age, as you have all pursued a common goal, graduation. Now that goal has been reached, what is going to happen next? This is a tough question.

When you left high school, you were able to keep some of your friends, as they too went to college. Even if you did not go to the same college, you could still relate to one another, as you still had many experiences in common -- the annoying required classes, the odd professors, and so on. However, now that you are graduating, things are going to change radically.

For a while, you will be able to keep up with your college friends, but only for a little while. After a couple of new cell phones, many of the phone numbers will get lost. People's e-mails will change. Even those you still keep track of will begin to mutate, as their lives take a path that is very different and alien from yours. Soon, there will be little to say to one another.

You see after college, there is no single path to follow. Some of you will go to graduate and professional school. Others will get jobs. There will be still others who will just kind of disappear.

Thus, what this event today marks more than anything else is what may be one of the most traumatic transitions of your young lives. For those of you in your early twenties, you will have spent around one fifth of your lives in the college environment. As of today, that will be gone. There will be no more worrying about midterms and finals, which may be a relief. However, the things that you will have to worry about will be more scary, paying bills, getting to work on time, dealing with a stupid boss. Worse yet, there is no graduation from the rest of life. There is no end. You will just have to get through the best you can.

So, in closing, I want to wish you all luck. I also want to commiserate with you all. The one good and important thing to remember is that you will not be the first person to feel this sense of loss, nor will you be the last. Just keep in mind when all the pomp of today is done, that this is probably what lies ahead. Get through it and then try your level best to do what you can to make the world a better place. This is all that we can each do.

The CP

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Indeed, embarking upon life after college is traumatic. I don't believe many conscious prepare for the transition.

8:10 PM  

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