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Commencement Season: Summer M.’s Graduation Address

Good morning, and congratulations to the class of 2010.  I know you’re wondering what inspiring words of wisdom I might impart on to a new generation of graduates.  Well, frankly, I have none, which is probably why my commencement address is coming to you via this blog and not as you sporadically doze your way through your younger brother’s graduation.  It’s true.  I offer you no pithy quotations to upload to your Tumblr account, no nuggets of sagacious wisdom crafted by some young, anonymous speech writer who not long ago sat where you were, unsure of his employment possibilities until his girlfriend’s father hooked him up with this gig before he applies to law school.  There is nothing Twitter worthy here.  Still, narcissism compels me to keep typing.

I may be a no-count sad excuse for a graduate student, but attempting to keep my adulthood in forbearance along with my student loans is not the only reason why I’m still in school: It’s a big bad world out there, and that diploma is your one way ticket into the fracas.  Yes, reality bites and I do not envy you. You’re being released into a world where many of us cannot tell that the recession is over.  A country where racism is still passed as law.  Where the environment is treated as a nuisance and not something we should take care of.  And careless corporations testify to an equally and nefariously irresponsible government acting as if the Earth just keeps spilling oil on itself.  I imagine the only thing scarier than the federal deficit is the reality that your student loan payments start in about six months.  Both debts are so deep the money owed is theoretical.  Good luck with that.

I’d tell you to start therapy now, but some of you don’t have decent health care.  And that totally sucks because technically you have until you’re 30 to blame your parents for everything that has, can and will go wrong.  Instead, I suggest you keep the peace with your parentals.  Assuming their home has not gone into foreclosure, this might be the best time to move out of the frat house and into mom and dad’s basement; hone those Xbox skills.  Right now, Call of Duty may indeed be your only call of duty.  Until they get that professional Wii bowling league started.

Perhaps you might want to start auditioning for reality television shows.  It’s a hard business to get into, but once you’re in, you’re in.  For the athletically inclined, I’d suggest pro sports, but odds are if you were going pro you would have dropped out of school already, hired an agent, and donned a really tacky suit instead of an itchy cap and gown. Ladies, there’s still time to attach yourself to a pro player.  Get to work soon, though.  Basketball Baby Mamas will begin casting in a few months.  Of course, you black women out there needn’t bother.  The John Mayer Rule is still in effect in the province of pro sports.  Not that they were checking for you anyway; as CNN, Nightline, and Steve Harvey warned chances were already slim that you would marry a black man.  Now that you have a degree, consider yourself overqualified–for everything except a starring role in Terry McMillen’s new book and a condo in Atlanta.

Perhaps six months from now, this cruel, yet ordinary world has beaten out of you any hope you had left over from the 2008 election.  Yet the great Huey Freeman reminded us, “Hope is irrational,” so maybe that place in you where youthful optimism once resided will be replaced with a logic that refreshes your view of the world.  Maybe you begin to rationalize that the world can’t keep spinning in the way it has.  Maybe you take your degree in sociology, or economics, or English (God forbid) and not only imagine but move to midwife a whole new world.  Maybe you think about your criminal justice degree and wonder if jails might be all wrong, and conclude that punishment when filtered through the capitalistic prison industrial complex almost always negates rehabilitation.  Maybe after law school your inevitable goal becomes arguing the case that leads to the outlawing of autotune.  Doesn’t T-Pain v. the state of Georgia have a nice ring to it?  Perhaps those classes in political science not only showed you how limiting the two party system is, but maybe also helped you realize that career politicians are part of what’s wrong with this country, and that maybe those who represent us should have actual day jobs.  Did that minor in international relations confirm for you that the United States is a big old bully, and that as long as we make war, we make terrorism?  I hope it did.

We can’t keep doing it like this.  If we keep this pace, with this hubris, we create our own 2012.  No conspiracy theorists need apply.  Hopefully the skills you had to acquire in order to cop that diploma not only help you navigate your way through this cold, cold world, but equipped you with the wherewithal to warm it up a little and the endurance to keep up the fight–power and privilege are never, ever relinquished very easily.  How much worse does the world have to get before we decide that we no longer want to participate in it the way things are now?  Don’t let that 8:30 history class, where attendance was 20 per cent of your grade, go to waste.  You may not have seen this movie before, but you presumably had to read about it to pass midterms.  Don’t let it end the way it did decades ago.

Despite my ivory tower weary cynicism, I know that many of you, even when you’re feeling overwhelmed and powerless will hold a bit of optimism and faith in your ability to make this place better.  Good.  Get to work. It’s best to change the world while you still believe you can.  Good luck.  You’ll need it.


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