Quiet Desperation

Life may not be predictable, but graduation speeches are


The invitations have gone out, and once again I didn’t receive one.

I wasn’t asked by a single high school, college, or university in the United States to give their commencement speech, even though I promised not to use the words “doom” and “apocalypse.”

I have a doozy too. I’ve been told you have to start with a joke. I have one about Ted Nugent. “What’s the difference between Ted Nugent and a laundry bag full of frozen underwear?”

I figure I haven’t been invited because I am a no-name who can’t be trusted.

One school told me they were worried I might tell students the truth.

I am not losing sleep because I haven’t been invited. I’m not a big believer in ceremonies in the first place, but The People seem to love them.

And if no one in your family has earned a high school or college degree before, it’s undoubtedly very meaningful.

My elementary school in Fullerton, California, had a ceremony for those of us who had mastered sixth grade. I remember sitting there with a frown on my face.

Graduation ceremonies in films are often depicted with derision. The speaker is boring and the students are disinterested.

Speakers often try too hard to say something profound.

“Nothing in life is guaranteed. You have to earn it.” That kind of thing.

Some speakers sermonize.

“You are all sinners in the hands of an angry God.” That kind of thing. I would walk out.

After the Nugent joke, I would read a few quotes: Lewis Carroll, Dorothy Parker, Groucho Marx.

I would do a loud and obnoxious promotion for Flex-Seal, just like the ones on television.

And I would close with some young women singing “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” — a cappella. There wouldn’t be a dry eye in the joint.

All seriousness aside, I have a small request. If you or your kid is graduating, don’t send an announcement to an edge-acquaintance who hasn’t heard from you in four years.

It’s an insult.

It just might look like you are beggaring a gift.

I’m not sure why we give gifts to the students anyhow. Instead of their teachers.

The word “commencement” means “to begin,” not “to conclude.”

Although for some, it is the end of the line.

High school and college years are lovely contrivances, not the Real World.

I didn’t want to leave my alma mater. It was paradise. The campus itself is an island of accomplished educators, bright, international students, and exquisite architecture and landscaping.

There are islands like it in (Boulder) Colorado, (Ann Arbor) Michigan, and (Tempe) Arizona. What’s better than learning? What’s better than learning around dedicated faculty and dedicated students?

Throw in some burned-out educators and delinquent students, to provide a frame of reference for reality, and a day will come when a memory trace will make you stop for a moment and reminisce about your school.

Sometimes all it takes is a song.

These lyrics came out the year I graduated: “Half my life is books, written pages. Live and learn from fools and from sages.”

Dream on, Class of 2018.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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