||[ for birthday - celebrants, too ... ... such as today's ]|
Dear graduates, I am not one of those commencement orators
Who takes you down a series of rhetorical corridors
Called "The Pursuit of Excellence" or "The Commitment to Quality,"
Meanwhile your brains are taking a brief holiday,
And then you go to the parking lot and you find the Chev and you
Think, "Quality, okay, but what am I going to do for revenue?"
You are excellent. Even if you were delivering pizza,
I would see that, like when a body meets a
Body coming through the rye, or coming through the trees,
You can recognize excellence even if it smells of onions and cheese.
Young people, you may have come already to the pinnacle
And forgive me if it sounds cynical
But as we gather to hail your
Feats, let's not forget to talk about failure.
Failure is essential, a form of mortality.
Without it, a person has a very weak sense of reality.
It is all well and good to strive for glory,
But today's grievous mistake is tomorrow's humorous story.
And one should not be a person whose memoirs consist
Of notes from the classes you never missed.
In a nutshell, my advice is:
Go out and have a crisis.
Would the Prodigal Son's dad have killed the fatted calf
If the boy had graduated with an average of three-point-ninety-nine and a half?
No, nor would Job have grown so wise in the Lord's ways
Had his only tribulation been one or two B's among a whole long string of A's.
You're much too smart and it all started with prenatal math,
Your mother reading theorems in the bath,
The warm water intended to calm the fetus
And maximize the effect of the Bach partitas
Which promote the growth of the secondary
Neurons of the cerebral promontory
Increasing the residuary
Authorities consider necessary
To get into a first-rate Montessori.
An advanced Montessori where smarter children are created,
Where the sandbox is enriched and naptime accelerated,
And every child, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew or Gentile,
Is targeted for the 99th percentile.
Gets the great job and size 4 wife,
The starter mansion that proclaims
His wealth, the beautiful children with Celtic names---
At the age of forty, a successful stock analyst, he
Runs off with a cocktail waitress, Misty,
Takes up cocaine and dungarees and permed hair
And writes third-rate poems in the style of Baudelaire
For five years, poems about spiritual emptiness and hunger:
This would've taken two months if he'd done it when he was younger.
O brave navigators on the road to tomorrow,
Speak to your parents and ask to borrow
Two or three thousand bucks and have yourself a beautiful disastrous summer
Marching to a different drummer.
Among exotic music and voices, foreign sights and smells,
Sleazy barrooms and city parks and cheap hotels,
The streets thronged with traffic, pedestrian and vehicular,
And all those strange people and one in particular
Who stops and talks and you strike up a tete-a-tete
And gradually become a duet
And you go for a walk along the Seine
And kiss as if you might never kiss again
But then you kiss again and then one thing leads to another
And you have an experience you won't be sharing with your father and mother.
Have a glorious summer so that as the autumn days come nigh
Your adventures are the envy of other alumni.
Forget about excellence. Think about courage.
And let that audacious side of you emourage.
In Paris, St. Petersburg, Macchu Picchu,
You learn what college cannot teach you
Whether you get a bachelor's or a master's:
That being a traveler means learning to deal with disasters.
We can't all be Aristotle or St. Thomas or Socrates,
Some of us, thanks to the law of averages, must be mediocrities,
But we can all live with esprit and panache
And sometimes throw whites and colored into the same wash
And get the expensive wine, the kind with a cork, never mind the cost,
And walk into strange cities and have the good sense to get lost.
---- Garrison Keillor, 2001