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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My mini-commencement address


Tonight is the last class I’ll teach this semester. It’ll likely be the last scholarly class many of my 16 grad students at Point Park University ever attend.

This, to me, is too momentous an occasion to let slide with yet another tedious dissertation about where to put all the commas.

So as is my custom, tonight I’ll engage the students in the grave life lessons I’ve learned over 47 years. I feel an obligation to deviate from conventional wisdoms and tell them -- political correctness be damned -- some of what I’ve learned.

Here is a summary of what I plan to say. Note: this version omits all the “uhs,” “ums” and other awkward pauses where I get distracted by the sounds of passing sirens or stop for as long as 90 seconds or so to scratch myself.

Good evening,

I’ve been privileged to be the instructional portal for teaching you how to navigate the choppy waters of basic storytelling and to provide you with a handy list of excuses for when the spellchecker fails to realize you meant ‘earthquake’ when you typed ‘earthquack.’

I’ve taught you all I know about how to be a successful journalist, which can be boiled down to five words: Do everything opposite of me.

Now I’m going to tell you how to be successful adults.

First, get the hell out of the passing lane. Remember, it’s not a left lane. It’s a passing lane. Apply your left turn signal and accelerate past slower drivers on the right. Then do the reverse with the right turn signal so you can get the hell out of my way.

Remember as you go through life to mute all the commercials. You’re a savvy bunch. You don’t need Flo or the Geico gecco to tell you you need insurance. Prime-time television devotes 23 minutes of every hour to selling you stuff you already have. Over the course of a year, you could earn a law degree simply by studying while the commercials are on mute. Keep a newspaper or magazine handy.

Wait until you’re 35 until you even consider getting married, then don’t get married until you’re 40. Willie Nelson says there is no such thing as ex-wives. There are only additional wives. Always aspire to the wisdoms of Willie.

Ask your parents important questions before it’s too late. Ask mom why she fell in love with dad. Ask dad about his greatest regret. And, remember, sometimes the most important question you can ever ask either parent is a sincere, hey, how are you doing?

Smile at strangers in elevators and talk to them when you’re sitting next to one another on airplanes. We’re all in this together.

I learned this by interacting with my 3 year old, but it applies to sweethearts, too. The four ingredients for any loving relationship are: play, tickle, cuddle and kiss. You can based on need divine your own proportions, but those are the essentials.

It’ll take three baseball-sized bean bags and about a month of stooping over, but learning to juggle will help you think through a lot of life’s problems.

Avoid going through life too drunk or addicted to drugs. Be careful, especially, of prescription drugs. We live in times of national madness when people consume more drugs than vegetables. It’s a sad, sad fact that strong drink and mind-altering drugs destroy many promising young lives.

On the flip side, avoid going through life way too sober. Excessive sobriety is a societal scourge with a host of nasty consequences all its own.

Both drunk and sober, I’ve devoted countless hours trying to figure out the meaning of life. I have failed. I have not the depth of wisdom to grapple with the answer to the greatest question.

But I know someone who did, someone with even more cerebral cred than baked, wise Willie. It’s Albert Einstein.

A 19-year-old Rutger’s University student in 1950 asked Einstein the purpose of life.

Here, in part, is what the genius said: “The answer is, in my opinion: satisfaction of the desires and needs of all, as far as can be achieved, and achievement of harmony and beauty in the human relationships.”

To paraphrase: the reason we’re here is to help each other. And to convince people to get the hell out of the passing lane.”

And that’s how I’ll conclude. That bit about the passing lane came from me, not Einstein, but I thought it would have more weight if I passed it off as coming from him.

And it is pretty darned important.

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