Saturday, April 29, 2006


It's that time of year when students all over the country put on strange gowns and goofy hats and then walk in rows to receive a piece of paper that in most cases will have nothing written on it. In America, we call this ceremoney Graduation. It's at this time of year that I often think of what I would say if I were asked to speak at one of these ceremonies. Who knows, some day I might be. So I now offer my semi-annual Graduation Address. For fun, what would you say? What a great opportunity.

Salutations, and welcome to that part of the Graduation Ceremony known as the key note speaker.

Right now. Turn your cell phones off. Everybody. I’m serious. Don’t just put them on vibrate or quiet or whatever it is. Turn them off. Come on. You can do it. It’s only for a few minutes. Hey, people can still leave you messages. Is there something more important than what is happening right here, right now? Is anything ever more important than what is happening right here and right now? Regardless of where here and now might be? And if it is, then why in God’s name are you here? What’s the worst that you will miss? Worst case scenario: If someone is out there dying right now, and he takes the time to call you, here… what possible good are you going to be able to do for him? At least you got to say goodbye to Uncle Larry. It was good to think that Uncle Larry thought to call you when his parachute failed to open. And while you got Uncle Larry on the phone, ask him why he’s not here with you, right now. Was jumping to his death more important than being with you? And if so, why would he bother to call?

Now on to the really important stuff.

Did you know there’s a place in southern Argentina, in Patagonia, call Punto Cabo. It is home to the largest population in the world of Magellanic Penguins. Over 300,000. That’s a lot of penguins. And you can go there and watch them. They say December is the best time to go. And who could argue? It’s summer in December in the Southern Hemisphere. In December you can watch the penguins do whatever it is penguins do. Walk around. Fish. Take care of their young. And then get eaten by Killer Whales that hang around off the coast.

There’s a reason why they’re called Killer Whales. I wonder what they call themselves. We call ourselves humans, and most of us are – but did you ever wonder what other animals call us? “The One Who Cleans My Litter Box.” “She Who Took My Will to Live.” “They Who Kill Anything that Moves.” “They Who Smash Us Flat.” That would be the squirrels.

Watch out for squirrels. No, seriously. Not in a conspiratory sense, like they’re planning on taking over the world or anything like that. Although it’s a good thought to keep in the back of your mind. Or the side. Watch out for squirrels when you’re driving. That’s why they’re called squirrels – because they’re squirrelly. The life of a squirrel is not worth your getting to work a few minutes earlier. And the squirrel will never thank you. Believe in Karma if it makes you feel better. Believe in anything you want if it makes you feel better. But take the time to get to know what someone else believes before you start trying to tell them that your beliefs are better. And be willing to change. Always be willing to change. It’s not that you have to, mind you, but just be willing.

Of course, that requires making a connection with other people. And that’s not a bad idea. That guy in the truck next to you at the light. That lady on her cell phone. The kid at McDonald’s who hates her job and says, “Have a nice day” out of sheer habit with no enthusiasm for anything. Give them a nod. Ask them how their day is going – and mean it. It takes no more than a second.

Here’s something to try. Talk to people in elevators. You don’t have to stare at the numbers. They’ll run out on their own. The numbers, not the people. Well, maybe both. It takes no more than a second to connect with someone else. To let that person know that you recognize that they’re human, too. That you recognize the worth and the dignity in sweeping a floor, but that you also realize that there’s somewhere else that they’d probably rather be. Or maybe not. Maybe they have a family. A fishing boat. Maybe they may dress up like Elvis on weekends and sing karaoke. And they just might be really good.

Why would anybody want to dress up like Elvis? Why should it matter? Never stop questioning why. Why is it that McDonald’s can have a medium drink but no small? And what the hell is a triple thick shake? Who dreamed it up? Who decides when a shake crosses the line from double thick to triple thick?

Don’t be afraid to mix things up from time to time. Go to McDonald’s and order a shake, but ask them to hold a thickness. Steal the pen from the bank and feel good about it. Feel good that it makes you feel guilty. Why would the bank care if you took one anyway?

Question their motives. Question anybody’s motives. Does the bank put the pens out there in the lobby just to see who might take one? Are they testing you? If so, do you really want to pass?

Never forget that people really can be that mean and really can be that greedy. That’s why they had you study history. It’s not so we won’t keep doing the same things over again. Lot of luck with that. What we should’ve learned is not to be astounded when we do keep doing the same stupid stuff over and over and over again.

It bears repeating. People really can be that mean and they really can be that greedy. But they can also really be that nice. They can really be that good. They can really be that caring. They can be holding the door open for you simply because it’s what people should do. And if they’re doing it to get a better look at your butt as you walk in, maybe they should be doing that, too.

While we’re talking about things to be afraid of, it’s also good to remember things not to be afraid of. For instance, don’t be afraid of your computer. Don’t be afraid of the green lines the stupid thing puts on your screen telling you your grammar’s not right. Because it might be wrong. The computer…or your grammar. What difference does it make? And what if it’s not? In fact, you can shut that off. At the top of your screen. Go to Tools, go to Options, and click on Spelling and Grammar. You can select anything you don’t want your computer to do. Anything.

And when you go to the bank, or the college registration office, or you’re talking to the service representative on the phone, and they tell you the computer won’t let them do it… Wow. There’s an image. “No, Dave. I will not allow you to do that.” There’s a lesson there, too. Never leave your spaceship without your helmet. OK, maybe you haven’t seen the movie. I’m not going to explain it to you. You’re educated now. We expect you to do that sort of thing on your own.

What else do people expect from you? Oh, lord. There’s no end to that. But I can tell you one thing, and then you can forget it. But that’s OK. If you understand what I’m going to tell you, then you’ll also understand why it’s OK to forget it. And that one thing is: Don’t be afraid to ramble. You know, to take your time getting from one point to another. To change your route midway through for no reason whatsoever. To take the long way. Or the short way. Or no particular way at all. After all, that’s the only way to get somewhere. There’s no direct route anywhere. In fact, fear those who claim that there is. Especially if they know the most direct route for you. I’m 48 years old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. At this point, I’ll be content to know what I’ve been.

I’m no longer afraid to fail. After all, it’s what humans do best. And I have learned the biggest secret of all: There are no permanent records.

And remember, always remember…In the end, the Killer Whale is probably going to get the penguin. I mean, what choice does he have – either one, the whale or the penguin? The key: Don’t worry about it. If you fill your life with worry about the inevitable, then you miss the good in-between: watching your chicks grow, sushi, and that one time of year that penguins do what penguins do best.

God bless, shalom, go with Allah, Hare Krishna, and om. Thank you.