Between the Lines: Curmudgeonly commencement advice

Once again this year, I have been asked to be a last-minute fill-in as the Middlebury College commencement speaker.
Those of you who were at last year’s commencement will find this especially puzzling. You may recall that my speech ended with a public disavowal by the college president, an escort off the premises by campus security officers, and the filing of multiple charges against me.
But my attorney assures me that most of the charges have been settled. And (more good news), the visits to my parole officer have been reduced from daily down to weekly.
Moreover, before giving this year’s speech, I have promised not to spend the night clinging to the bar having “just one more.”
I recognize that I’m breaking with tradition by publishing portions of this year’s commencement speech before it is delivered.
However, I believe it’s vital that these remarks reach a broader audience. It’s important to communicate to more than just the graduates — who will have splitting headaches from Senior Week parties — and to their long-suffering parents, who now have a $250,000 hole in their wallets from paying for a Middlebury College education.
Again this year, I will try to avoid the customary platitudes served up to new graduates. I won’t tell them that the world is their oyster. Instead, I’ll point out that there is a lot of sand in this particular clam.
I will refrain from telling them to work hard and then good things will happen. Because often they won’t.
Some days you get the bear — but just as many days, the bear gets you.
I won’t report to the grads how much I regret that my generation screwed things up.
Because let’s face it, things were already pretty screwed up by the time my generation graduated from college 40 years ago.
So if we Baby Boomers have largely failed to address the problems of global poverty and hunger, greed, pollution, militarism and war — well, all I can say is, neither did our parents.
After those optimistic notes, I’ll be offering this advice to the new grads:
For as long as you possibly can, avoid the temptation to settle down. Use your 20s to do all the wild and crazy things you have always dreamed about.
Later in life, when your legs will no longer carry you the length of the Appalachian Trail, when all the hot single people have already paired off, when even bungee jumping no longer delivers a jolt — you’ll wish you’d had all those adventures while you still could.
As you launch into your bright new careers, you can look forward to having all the disappointments of the average working person.
I mean, the rest of us are laboring away at our fourth career and finding it almost as disappointing as the first three. Why should you be any different?
Make sure you have friends of the opposite sex and opposing political party.
However, do not try to sleep with these friends. It almost never works out.
And if you are thinking about marrying your college sweetheart, don’t. There are bigger and better fish in the sea.
If you do marry that person, all the petty little arguments you’ve had over the last four years will only get worse. Your relationship will come to define the term “power struggle.”
Eventually, of course, you will want to settle down.
Avoid this urge for as long as you possibly can. “Settling down” is a decades-long process, requiring the patience of Job and a cast-iron stomach.
Once you do come to believe that the person you love is really the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, and grow old with, and sing corny songs with — please again reassess the situation.
And if after that reassessment, you still think that person is the right one, well, then, have yourselves one hell of a wedding.
Get a really good wedding photographer. Invite all the relatives and your friends from high school. Hire a great band and have the first dance with your parents.
But whatever you do at this wonderful event, do not write your own wedding vows. In later years, you will only be embarrassed that you publicly promised each other not to blow your nose in the shower, not to nibble on your new spouse’s earlobe, and to faithfully take out the garbage before the trash truck is actually driving down your street.
There’s a reason there’s a standard recital for a wedding, and you should follow it.
Drive a car that gets good mileage, and expect to be living on a very hot planet. Buy alternative energy stocks.
Think about not having children. Spend your time with each other. Volunteer in your community. Do all the straight-arrow things that make life better for yourself and others, and are far more satisfying than changing diapers and watching endless soccer games played by clueless eight-year-olds.
Overpopulation isn’t just an idea. We are living on a planet that is headed to 10 billion people, which is surely an unsustainable number.
But if you really must procreate, have just one. Find other ways to get that wonderful “big family” feeling. Lots of play dates will help.
Lastly, never give up trying to figure out the mystery of life. You’ll never actually puzzle it all out, of course. Or if you do think you have figured it out, you will almost surely be deluded.
But it’s fun to try.
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at www.GregDennis.WordPress.com. E-mail him at [email protected].

Share this story:

More News
Sports Uncategorized

MAV girls’ lax nets two triumphs

The Mount Abraham-Vergennes cooperative girls’ lacrosse team moved over .500 with a pair o … (read more)

Op/Ed Uncategorized

Hector Vila: The boundaries of education

There is a wide boundary between the teacher and the student, found most profoundly in col … (read more)

Naylor & Breen Uncategorized

Naylor & Breen Request for Proposals

Naylor and Breen 042524 2×4.5 OCCC RFP

Share this story: