December 13, 2005

“Commencement” Address

by Richard Glumson, guest columnist

[Last May, I was asked by the local school board to give the commencement address at one of our city’s high schools. Always eager to share my insights with the younger generation, I jumped at the opportunity and now present to you the transcript of my speech.]

As I look at you today, at you proud graduating seniors, I see expressions of hope, of pride, of relief.

[At this last remark, a smattering of laughter emerged from the crowd.]

“We’ve made it,” you’re saying to yourselves. “We’ve made it—through eighteen years of putting up with Mom and Dad, through thirteen years of exasperating teachers, through four years of this great circus called high school. Yes, we’ve made it.”

Oh, how deceived you all are.

[At this, I knew I had their attention.]

Today is not a day to celebrate. One does not wish “mazel tov” to a man who’s just been shoved from an airborne plane.

I’m sorry to say this, friends, but it’s all downhill from here. I know you’re all filled with hopes and dreams. Some of you long to be doctors and lawyers, others actors and rock stars. Now perhaps your dreams will come true, perhaps not. Either way, it won’t really matter, for none of you will be happy in the end.

Look around at one another, squeeze the hand of the person sitting next to you if you’d like. For this is the last time you’ll ever have true friends. You’ve all been through so much together. Through pimples and shoplifted Playboys, through wrestling tryouts and calling a girl on the phone for the first time, through bullying stoners and indifferent administrators. You’ve come of age with one another, shared with each other your hopes and fears and darkest thoughts.

Sure, you say you’ll keep in touch. And for the next couple of years, you’ll get together during winter and summer vacations. But before you know it, you’ll be taking jobs in Massachusetts and Costa Rica and even godforsaken places like Montana. You’ll promise to get together a couple times a year, to email whenever you have the chance. But next thing you know, your life will be consumed by some buxom career woman named Diane. A woman whose breasts, you’ll later realize, are her greatest virtues, as she has neither the charm nor inward beauty of your first crush, that ebullient, big-eyed girl you admired from across the room in sophomore biology.

But you keep telling yourself that Diane is the one for you, that you only fight so much because you’re both so busy with work, that if you just got away for a while, got a chance to relax and get reacquainted, that initial spark would reignite. So you head off on some $5,000 cruise to the Virgin Islands, only to spend the bulk of your trip socializing with other couples, as the fact of the matter is that you and Diane and have nothing in common and don’t really like talking to each other.

Things wouldn’t be so bad if the sex was good. But, of course, it’s not. It was never good and you start to miss those glorious days of virginity. At least then you had something to look forward to, believing intercourse would resemble those steamy scenes in Basic Instinct.

You think throwing yourself into your job might dull life’s miseries. So you do that and make lots of money and buy lots of expensive things. But you still feel bored. So you decide to have a kid, hoping that will somehow give meaning to things. But you try and try and, for two years, nothing ever happens. So you finally give in to your wife’s demands and go to see a fertility expert, which isn’t so bad at first. But then one day you learn that she’s told all your friends of your problems and you lock yourself in the bedroom and swear that you’ll never see them again, a threat that you know she’ll never let you carry through with.

Of course, the more you think about it, it doesn’t really matter what these people think. They’re not really your friends; the only thing you have in common are socio-economic backgrounds and wives who you force you to come together for the occasional dinner party. Gone are the friends with whom you could have heart-to-heart talks, share all your secrets, spend hours rolling on the floor in laughter for reasons you can’t even remember. Welcome to the world of lackluster conversations about mortgage rates and time shares.

And that’s when you think about reconnecting with your old friends from high school. But you feel stupid for suddenly sending them an email after ignoring them for so many years and retreat back into your suburban nightmare.

One day you get the idea that you’d be happier if you flew out and saw your parents more. But they don’t really care about you anymore, just annoying little Creighton. Can you believe it, after all you went through to have the kid, your wife makes you name him Creighton? And, sadly, little Creighton hasn’t done much to bolster your own happiness and self esteem. He drools and craps and seems to delight in pissing you off. And, even though the sex was never that great, at least you got some before. Now all you have to look forward to is your anniversary and birthday.

[I surveyed the crowd, saw looks of disbelief, of horror. The principal, a mild-mannered, balding man, looked at me as though I’d just killed and eaten a kitten.]

Ten years from now, [I continued,] some of you will reunite for an excruciatingly painful weekend of remembrance. As the DJ plays “Breakfast at Tiffany’s (dammit, you’ll think to yourself, why don’t they make music like this anymore?), you’ll gaze upon these balding, bloated imitations of your old friends, who are dancing with their spouses, and the injustice of the world will hit you head-on. You’ll find yourself thinking that Jill Carlson should be dancing with Robbie Butler, not that obnoxious insurance salesman. You‘ll lament that Angela Newman and Bret Osborne never got married, that Maggie Richardson didn’t become a world-famous model, that Mike Palmero didn’t go into politics.

And then you’ll realize, even if just for a split second, that I was right. That if life is an orgy, then high school is the orgasm, college the post-coital smoke, and everything after that the cold, anticlimactic shower.

[The principal began walking up to the podium, evidently intent on seizing the microphone. So I decided it would be a good time to end things.]

So, in conclusion, let me encourage you all to go out today and have a great time. Just for one day, don’t worry about the neighbors and turn your radios up full blast. Drink until your little hearts are content. Tell each other how great it’s been, how much fun you’ve had. Make your parting kisses and final confessions of love. In sum, party like you’ve never partied before. For today, quite simply, is the last day of the rest of your lives.

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