Madam Chancellor, distinguished guests, parents, Class of 2017:
I know you are expecting me at this point to introduce our celebrity commencement speaker. After all, the least we can do after your three to five years of academic struggle and astronomical student loans is to provide you with some sort of A-list entertainer offering high-minded bromides to create the illusion that at long last you got your money’s worth.
Maybe a celebrity speaker will be a lasting memory that will inspire you – specifically, inspire you to donate to the alumni fund when some doomed Philosophy major interrupts your very important Netflix marathon and swallows every ounce of what’s left of his pride to beg you for your Visa number.
Yes, perhaps the celebrity convocation speaker’s words will inspire you, even though said celebrity commencement speaker’s idea of inspiration is casually dropping the F-bomb, probably in regards to the sitting American president, though I don’t know why we should expect insightful political commentary from the star of Jetpack Poodle 2.
Once upon a time universities honoured people who made actual contributions to society – humanitarians, scientists, the inventor of the cup holder – but we soon caved to our graduates who told us what they truly desired was to hear life advice from Dr. Katy Perry.
How did we get here? How did we get to this point where movie stars, talk show hosts and comedians offer benedictions to our youth as they stumble into full-fledged adulthood? When did we become so immersed in irony that it’s now normal for a commencement address to include Will Ferrell crooning “I Will Always Love You”?
I can’t pin it down, but as I was straightening my mortarboard this morning, I got this overwhelming sense that it all began in 1985 with David Letterman shouting out a window through a bullhorn at “The Today Show” taping on the streets below. The world changed that day.
But that’s neither here nor there.
I know today you expected to be addressed by someone who makes a living lip-synching to lyrics that contain the words “grindah” and “buck-honey boot lick.”
Unfortunately, our celebrity commencement speaker is unavailable.
Instead, I am going to offer what I can recall of my very own valedictory address to the Class of 1984 at Antigonish Regional High School (AKA John Hugh Gillis Regional High School, AKA The Regional).
Parents, distinguished guests, friends, classmates who never thought I was a big deal but look at me now: good evening.
Today, we enter a new world. I also have new glasses. I just got them yesterday. Perfect metaphor for the “new me.” I’m not wearing them right now. I only just sort of need them, but in 30 years I’m going to be completely blind without them. Now that’s a metaphor.
Fellow students, this is our moment, but mostly my moment. As we gaze towards the future, we must look back upon the past, a past that included none of my older siblings delivering the valedictory address, I might point out.
Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations is a source of many useful quotes. Some day we’ll have Google and BrainyQuote. Some day it’ll be fairly common to casually run WordsTogether like that.
Here’s one of those quotes: “Lead, follow or get out of the way.” That’s my message to you, graduates of 1984 (and 2017). Not sure where I was going with that. Kind of limits your options. What about purposely standing in the way? What about The Resistance? That would be handy.
What else can I tell you? Follow your dreams. Friends forever. Remember the parties. Something edgy, but not too edgy. (Hi, Mom.)
Did I mention you should follow your dreams?
I will close with a quote, I believe by Williams Wordsworth, taken from his famous work, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. I cannot tell you what quote, but you can bet your feathered 80s haircut it was inspirational.
Good luck, Class of 1984 (and 2017). See you at the after-party, where I will be moping by myself for feeling insufficiently adulated.
Again, I apologize things did not go as planned today, but I hope you got as much out of this commencement address as you would have from a celebrity speaker.
I’m not wearing pants.