Commencement Speeches For Beginners

As any sales circular will tell you, June is the month for “Dads and Grads”.  I’m both a Dad and a Grad several times over, though I haven’t been particularly new at either position for quite some time.  It occurs to me that despite my soaring intellect and love of dispensing unwanted advice, I’ve yet to be invited to give the commencement speech anywhere, ever.  Still, as my temples gray and the barren plain on the top of my head becomes increasingly littered with liver spots, I’m confident some school will ask me.

Being the commencement speaker does not give you the right to hold the magic sceptor.  I found this out the hard way, and I'd like to take a moment to apologize to Dean Conroy for the misunderstanding and wish him a speedy recovery.  (Image from txstate dot edu)
Being the commencement speaker does NOT give you the right to hold the magic scepter of Laan-dor. I found this out the hard way, and I’d like to take a moment to apologize to Dean Conroy for the misunderstanding and wish him a speedy recovery. (Image from txstate dot edu)

I’ve sat through quite a few of these speeches.  I always try to stay awake and pay attention so that I can avoid some of the common pitfalls other speakers often experience.  The most recent commencement I attended was a great learning opportunity; I even took some notes on my smart phone (to my wife’s untrained eye, it may have appeared I was doing a Sudoku puzzle). I’ve created a Do’s and Don’ts list as a rough guide for myself.  Feel free to refer to it yourself in the event you’ve been chosen ahead of me for this prestigious honor.

  • Do  – Talk about yourself – The parents and esteemed faculty will want to know why you were picked and not some brilliant or famous person with more stellar qualifications.
  • Don’t  – Talk about yourself – Graduates will be the first ones to tell you, this day is about them, not some crusty old fart who made his first dollar back when people still used paper money.
  • DoMake real world examples – These fresh-faced youngsters need to recall what they’ve learned in this (circle one: community college/university/12-step program) and apply it to real world decisions.
  • Don’tMake references to the MTV series “The Real World” – These kids know damn well that you’ve never seen one episode, also, MTV might have cancelled it.  Besides, that Snookie character has likely done something stupid in public again, and that could reflect badly on your speech.
  • Do  – Break the ice with a joke – Everyone likes a little chuckle to keep things light.  Despite your obvious intellectual superiority, jokes show people you’re just a regular guy.  If possible, try to incorporate the school into the joke.  Keeping it topical will strike a familiar chord with everyone in the crowd.
  • Don’t  – Make the joke too topical – It may still be a little soon to poke fun at the university’s recent “sex for grades” scandal.
  • Do  – Comment about the high temperature – The sweltering heat and humidity in this (circle one: Auditorium/Cafeteria/Stadium/5th Circle of Hell) cannot be ignored.  People can take comfort that they’re not the only ones who are suffering from an epic case of swamp ass.
  • Don’t  – Let them see you sweat.  This may involve applying a stick or two of roll-on antiperspirant to your entire head and smuggling a battery operated fan under your robes.  Legal Disclaimer – Using antiperspirant on the scalp is not recommended.  Avoid contact with eyes, ears, mouth, nasal passages and broken or intact skin, including armpits.
  • Do  – Avoid distractions.  Some class-clown will likely smuggle a beach ball or inflatable love-doll into the ceremony and start batting it around amongst his classmates.  Distractions can take away from the message and flow of your speech.
  • Don’t  – Underestimate the value of showmanship.  Take the extra time to train your pet hawk to attack and retrieve inflatable toys.  The sight of “Edie Falcon” on your outstretched arm, tearing the remnants of a congratulatory mylar balloon to ribbons will make these young punks sit up and take notice.  Legal Disclaimer: Falcons may be disoriented by flash photography and have been known to mistake graduation tassels for small prey.
  • Do  – Acknowledge the parents.  In many cases they raided their retirement savings to subsidize this moment; they deserve the credit for writing those checks every semester.  This instant may be a rare happy memory once their graduate moves back into his old room for the next 13 years.
  • Don’t  – Mention your exorbitant speaker’s fee.  If these broke-assed parents find out the crazy cash you were paid to give this rambling mess of a speech, they could try to strong-arm you for a round of shots later at the Applebee’s out by the airport.
(Image from faculty regalia dot com - Smart-assed text from yours truly)
(Image from faculty regalia dot com – Smart-assed text from yours truly)

If I Titled This Accurately, You’d Never Read It

The “lab” part may have been in question, but not the retriever. Tia was well known for dunking her head and even swimming to the bottom of a diving well to fetch things. One could argue that rather than retrieving, she is hiding her face in shame in preparation for the following story.

A thousand years ago, my wife of countless decades and I were in the delicate dance of courtship.  We were already crazy about each other, but getting to know one another’s parents was still a work in progress.  Her parents first met me on a trip to our college campus, and had been under-impressed with my story of my roomate’s cat.  Ray – the cat not the roomate – was known to bury his turds so thoroughly in the litter box, that he would end up exhuming them by accident.  Not aware of what he had found, Ray would start juggling the litter-coated nugget back and forth, eventually batting it across the floor in a spirited display of feline soccer prowess.

Her parents, polite people who didn’t want to hurt their daughter’s feelings, stood there nodding and  saying things like “Oh my!” and “What a talented little cat that must be!”  My girlfriend stood off to the side, wringing her hands and hoping that I would shut the hell up before I made them think I was any more of an idiot than I had already proven myself to be.  Finally, when I was at last out of things to say that didn’t involve cat doo doo, we all went out for a nice dinner.  The meal was uneventful, and my girlfriend was thrilled at the relative silence of all of us chewing and talking about how nice the salad bar was.  I can only imagine the stoney silence as her parents drove home that night, each quietly hoping their daughter would wake up and drop that oddball before she got too serious about him.

The weeks flew by and my girlfriend’s parents got used to me to a point.  The relationship was plugging along, and everyone was relatively comfortable.  Certainly we wished to keep it that way.

During those years, my girlfriend and I had a dog.  Technically, I had the dog, since she had graduated by then and was living at home and actually working, while I was still at college living in an off-campus student ghetto.  The dog was a sort-of black lab.  Her nose was a little too pointy, and she wasn’t quite the right proportions to be an actual lab, but she was closer to being a lab than anything else.  We named her Tia, not after the Spanish word for “aunt”, but after the Jamaican coffee liqueur, Tia Maria.  The people who owned brown and black dogs around campus had already stolen the good booze-related dog names, including Guinness and Kahlua.  Anyway, the dog lived with me off-campus with my roomates and neighbors along with their various dogs, including Timber, Buddy, Buzz and Ziggy (those were the dogs, not the roomates).

Our living arrangements were typical of the era.   The dogs lived as barely-domesticated in the neighborhood, scavenging the yards and alleys, eating like cartoon goats.  Dogs and roomates lived in a constant state of flea bombings and unexpected vet bills.  One dog had eaten an entire bag of garbage and needed surgery to extract the Hefty Two-Ply from its lower G.I. system.  Another had chipped his tooth chasing a thrown brick which took an unfortunate hop.  Still another needed a capful of peroxide to induce vomiting to help his owner recover a quarter ounce of a prized product, which he then sold to unsuspecting customers, as if it had never been in the stomach of a spaniel-mix.   Dogs, huh?

On one particular visit to my future in-laws, my girlfriend and I were walking Tia out on her parent’s lawn.  Her parents were not out there, but were likely to come strolling out of the house at any time.  My future sister-in-law was there, making small talk with us, while Tia sniffed around the yard, looking for a good place to drop a deuce.  Always trying to maintain my future son-in-law status, I was prepared to scoop up any nuggets that Tia was going to drop on the fescue.  She assumed the position, and I scurried over to have the load off the grass as quickly as possible.  As I crouched near her, I was not entirely surprised to see that her dump appeared to be composed of something other than 100% processed kibble.  Upon further inspection, it appeared to be some sort of translucent plastic or latex.  Just as the light bulb of recognition flickered on, Tia decided she was done and trotted off to another part of the yard, her tail happily wagging.  An undigested condom hung out of her butt and was wagging in the opposite sequence of her tail.

Petrified that my future in-laws would come out of the house at any minute, I chased the oblivious Tia trying in vain to catch the dog-dootie covered rubber.  My girlfriend and her sister proved their worth by watching from another part of the lawn and laughing as I crouch-ran across the grass, trying to time my grasps with the conflicting swings of the tail and the rubber.  Tia, ever playful despite an obvious eating disorder, decided that she enjoyed the game and managed to keep herself just out of reach.

I was finally able to get her coralled and pull the offending Trojan out of her dumper before my future in-laws could come out of the house.  I stood there for a brief moment of victory until I realized what I was holding, then quickly dropped it in the bag I held.   I was more than a little eager to get myself to the nearest sink for 30 minutes of scalding handwashing.

Taken years after the infamous condom-passing incident, this pic shows Tia diving off the bulkhead into the Barnegat Bay. Later that year, we moved across the country. She became fairly well known for her unauthorized roving of the streets of downtown Eugene, Oregon and swimming in the Willamette.

Like many stories from ancient history, it’s hard not to wonder “what if?”.  What if my father-in-law-to-be had wandered out of the house in time to see the dog and her protrusion?  It might have spelled an entirely different path for my life.  I might have bid a hasty farewell to my girlfriend and never seen her again.  Then again, my future father-in-law might have just shrugged and gone back into the house, and I would have ended up right where I am after all.  Most people would say that having philosophical thoughts about a topic such as this is both disturbing and pointless – but if I was like most people, what would be the appeal of this blog?

I owe a strange debt of gratitude to Angie Z. of Childhood Relived, who through no fault of her own, got into a comment stream with me about a totally different subject, which somehow took a scatological turn.  She in no way could have forseen that safe sex would somehow cross-pollinate this gem of a story and make it even worse.  Those among you who have been engaged in comment streams here on WordPress can probably understand.  Those of you who ignore the comments might want to reconsider- some of us do our best work there – potty talk and all.  If you click on Angie’s blog link above, you can see her funny writing, and make sure to stick around for the comments section after.  Follow her blog as you do mine, become a better person, do it now!

Excuses Excuses Excuses

No one, including me, likes to hear an excuse.  I’m fairly sure that reading them isn’t much more enjoyable.  Yet, here I sit, poised to write a post which is absolutely littered with them.

After a string of several weeks putting up 4 or 5 posts, I’ve fallen off the radar.

In truth, it’s not for lack of effort.  I’ve actually got a few things in the works, but none of them are quite ready yet.  The last thing anyone out there needs is an under-cooked blog.  They don’t digest well and will leave you readers with a funny taste in your mouths – bad funny, like getting hit in the privates, not good funny, like someone else getting hit in the privates.

Here are a few of the excuses I’ve been kicking around, followed by the reasons they suck:

Excuse  #1 – I’ve been really busy with work.

This excuse sucks because: Everyone gets busy at work, or worse yet, some readers may be among the scores of unemployed or under-employed and resent the hell out of me for having a job (actually, I have 3 jobs, but bringing that up won’t likely endear me to the unemployed)

Would it help if I mentioned that one of my jobs is working at a soup kitchen handing out croutons and extra napkins? (Image from

Excuse #2 – I’ve been saddled with family obligations.

This excuse sucks because: Everyone gets saddled with family obligations.  Feeling put-upon by the responsibilities of family life is one of the main reasons many of us write in the first place!  Writers in dry spells will envy my having family issues and obligations.  To be honest, my big family obligation was driving my daughter to Pittsburgh to help her move from one college dwelling to another. That’s not exactly like having a painful, dramatic intervention to get Aunt Tilly off the booze and pills.  Sorry Aunt Tilly, but making light of your addictions was for your own good (and it filled a void in my post)

Excuse #3 – I had to drive to Pittsburgh and back.

This excuse sucks because: Pittsburgh is a happening city filled with a delicious mix of culture and kitsch.  Driving there and back actually got me out of New Jersey for 3 days.  By the way, if you ever want to kill your liver and gain 10 pounds all in one weekend, let me know, I have some Pittsburgh attractions you won’t want to miss.

Excuse #4 – I was busy begging people to vote for me to win the “Gluttony” chapter of k8edid’s 7 Deadly Sins Challenge

This excuse sucks because: Even though I was busy begging, and I actually succeeded at winning, I now have 6 more deadly sins to write about and I have to make a good showing or I’ll look like a one-post wonder.  (By the way – Thanks for voting everybody, I’ll try not to let you down)

Excuse #5 – I was busy watching the NCAA men’s lacrosse playoffs.

This excuse sucks because: It’s not entirely true.  While Pittsburgh has no shortage of trendy bars and restaurants, I couldn’t find any bartenders who wanted to change the channel from tractor pulls or the replay of the Penguins most recent Stanley Cup Championship.  Though its popularity is growing by leaps and bounds across all demographics, many people still consider lacrosse the bastion of affluent, snotty rich kids.  With that in mind, maybe you’d enjoy watching the guy who will eventually receive a 7 figure bonus for moving your job to Sri Lanka get cross checked into the turf.

When the dude in the red shorts reorganizes your company and you end up on the soupline, you can look back fondly on this humiliating hit. (Image copyright – Hung Tran Photography)

Excuse #6 – I was expending all my creative efforts writing my rant for the people in my Survivor pool at work.

This excuse sucks because: Writing this blog is the excuse I gave to my work friends for doing such a lackluster job on the Survivor rant!  Let’s be honest, this season pretty much went down the toilet once Colton had to quit with menstrual cramps.

Excuse #7 – The sun was in my eyes.

This excuse sucks because: Everyone knows I do the bulk of  my blogging under cover of darkness.

Excuse #8 – I’m a perfectionist – you just can’t rush true art.

This excuse sucks because: Have you read my blogs?  Perfectionist?  Seriously?!