June 02, 2007
Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2007, families, friends, and of course, the people who scalped tickets to hear President Bill Clinton speak, thank you for joining us here today.
As most of these speeches begin: Today, we stand on the cusp of tomorrow. I think that's how it's supposed to go. And next, I am required, perhaps by federal law, (I'm not sure, I guess I could ask President Clinton,) but at least I think I'm supposed to mention something about how we are all staring into our "vast and endless futures," how we are "prepared to take this world by storm," and how Knox is the reason for our preparation.
Now, some of us look forward to med school in the fall, while others are to law school. Some look to graduate schools, while others peer into the workforce. Though there are others of us, a rougher breed, who will continue our search for ourselves next fall in the welcoming arms of?our parent's basements. There is a comfort in rolling up the posters from our dorm walls only to unroll them months later, plaster them on the sheetrock that hides the furnace and our father's dust-ridden bench press, and committing ourselves to days on end of flipping through daytime television, searching and hoping for signs.
But the signs don't ever seem to come like that, do they? They don't really reveal themselves between the Young and the Restless and General Hospital as we'd hoped. And despite our greatest hope, not even Montel Williams or Judge Judy can offer clear guidance as to what we are supposed to do next. But I think that Knox has always done a fine job of reminding us of this; that the world doesn't end in our basements, that television rots our brains, and that we cannot meander for too long because we have responsibilities. We have obligations. If nothing else, this place has scraped us out of our dorm rooms, put us in situations that made us nervous, made us uncomfortable, and forced us to grow from socially awkward freshmen to just good old fashioned, regularly awkward human beings. Yet somehow, all of us have survived and endured our own personal debacles that have left only minor scars, and I'd argue that we're better for it.
How we spend our time is of great interest to students of Knox. And even without help from Facebook, I am confident that I could look at nearly every one of my classmates and give you some indication of their activities, how they've left their mark here, how they've spent their time.
As many of you know, I spend my time at a million places at once. It's the magic of cloning. But I spend my summers in one place: South Milford, Indiana, as a camp counselor, in which I spend the vast majority of my weeks bandaging scraped knees, tracking down who stole the calamine lotion this time, and trying desperately, desperately to assure unwavering campers that the best way to avoid jock itch is to shower and that dunking in the lake is not sufficient. And at the end of each week, the entire camp comes together for one last campfire in which we can feel as if, for a brief time, we were all a part of something much larger than ourselves. And as bedtimes approaches and the fire light begins to die down, we always sing a song called Linger.
Now, I assure you, I had every intention of personally scotch-taping the lyrics to that song beneath each of your chairs. And my intent was to force you to sing it. I envisioned President Clinton and I with our arms wrapped around each others shoulders, leading the song for all of you while a campfire burned merrily right here beside the podium.
Now, as it turns out, secret service wasn't too keen on the necessary pyrotechnics involved in my on-stage campfire, and in the end, secret service won the day. But I wanted very much for the words of that song to mean something to you. Words like "I want to linger / A little longer / A longer here with you." Words like "It's such a perfect night / It doesn't seem quite right / That it should be my last with you."
Last nights and last days have all but passed us now. Four years ago, we waved goodbye to parents, realized that we were our own keepers, and tried our best not to abuse our rites of passage. Sure, we gained 15 pounds, forgot to set alarm clocks, made all the mistakes we were supposed to make and that we were allowed to make while still being able to categorize them under the phrase "growing experiences."
And now, as I gaze over the crowd of my classmates, I see memories and stories within each of you, many of which, you would not want me to repeat publicly. Stories which, with the healing powers of time, will seem comical during our 20 year reunion. We'll chuckle about these memories, and then you'll hesitantly lean over and say, "You know, we were wild back then. But the thing is, my wife doesn't know about the streaking incident, so if you could just keep that part quiet for me?" Don't worry you two in the third row, you know who you are, I'll keep it quiet for you. That's what friends are for.
But what's important here is that when I say that I want to linger a little long here with you, it's more than a song or a gesture. Excluding the camp fire, we are ending the equivalent of what has been a four year long summer camp experience. We still scrape knees, hide calamine lotion and we've all come down with cases of fungal problems of which this is neither the time nor the place.
But now we're done, and the closest we can come to reclaiming what was once ours, our glory years which end tonight at midnight, is not to linger around the campus, overstaying our welcome and hoping nobody notices that suddenly we're 37 years old and ordering breakfast bagels from the Gizmo. But rather, we reclaim what is ours by proving ourselves to ourselves.
Let us not sit idly in our parents basements. Let us not be held captive by a fear of failure. Let us rise up from our futons, let us rip our Pink Floyd posters from those sheetrock walls, and let's kick the basement boiler once, the washing machine twice, and say adios to the mildew-infested habitat which we shared with the cat and the litter box.
Truthfully, I have never known so much talent assembled in one location. And though I've known it for years and I've seen it for years, this is the first time I haven't taken it for granted. Tomorrow morning this talent will have been dispersed back throughout the country and the world, and this thought gives me great confidence in the future. We have obligations and responsibilities, but they are not only to ourselves, but to the people who sit on either side of us.
As is required by Illinois statute 21.58C, we will end this graduation speech as all graduation speeches end? with a quote that is only partially relevant and only half understood:
We stand on the shoulders of giants. Isaac Newton.
Now I ask each of you to jump off of those shoulders, spread your feet equidistant to your chest, and prepare yourselves to assume the role of giant. And let us support others as they rise up on our shoulders. I've heard the view is quite lovely from there.
Thank you all. You've been a family to me.