Below the Beltway
Gene gives a graduation speech

By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, June 24, 2007

The following is excerpted from my June 20 graduation address to the Class of 2007 at Heritage High School in Leesburg.

LET ME BEGIN by dismantling a great big fiction about high school commencement addresses. I am supposed to tell you today that you are embarking on a bold, new journey and whatnot. It's in the official graduation speech handbook, page 3, paragraph 9. But here's what you have to realize: A few years from now, when most of you are graduating from college . . . they're going to tell you the same thing.

My point is that the basic, all-purpose high school graduation speech is a lie. It's a lie, because they don't want to tell you the truth, which is that you are embarking on a bold, new journey to explore such things as whether it is physically possible to jam into a dormitory elevator the entire contents of the faculty lounge, including the sectional sofa.

And it's not the first lie you've been told. You've been lied to your whole lives. Remember when you finally got out of diapers and your parents told you that you were now a big boy or a big girl? (Actually, it's amazing that your parents still didn't know whether you were a boy or a girl.) But, the point is that you were not a big boy or a big girl. You were a whining, nose-picking, 3-foot-tall maggot with ears who, by the grace of God, just happened to have finally stopped pooping in your pants. But you were not, by any stretch of the imagination, big.

I should take a moment here to thank the senior class for inviting me to speak, and, in particular, to thank Ms. Gundersen, without whose assistance this never would have happened. When we're through, I'll be passing around a collection basket to augment her severance pay. Please be generous.

Anyway, having been so routinely lied to, it's small wonder that, by this key passage in your life, you have no idea who is lying to you and who is telling you the truth. Thank goodness you have me, your graduation speaker, to clear things up. When you know the truth, however painful it might seem, it loses its power to hurt. So, here goes.

First, your parents don't love you. In fact, they are so crushingly disappointed in you that . . . Wait. Sorry, my bad. That was from a previous speech, to incarcerated serial killers. Your parents do, in fact, love you, and they are proud of you. They are, however, unbelievably thrilled to get you out of the house.

Second, contrary to what you have been told, money is not the root of all evil. Vice President Cheney is the root of all evil.

My third point is allegorical. I want each one of you to look at the classmate to your left and, now, to the classmate to your right. If you happen to be sitting at the end of a row, please turn in your diploma, because you have failed the basic test of graduating seniors, namely, the ability to draw facile inferences from inspection of students to your left and right.

For the rest of you, look at the student to your left and the student to your right. Statistically speaking, only one of the three of you is going to have both a successful career and a happy marriage. Pretty sobering, huh? Well, my advice is that you always remember those students to your left and right, and, at some point during the next few years, at an opportune moment, frame them for a crime. A level playing field is for suckers.

Fourth, I think it's appropriate that I say a word about sex: Yowza!

Boy, it's hard being an inspirational speaker. There's so much social responsibility.

According to the official graduation speech handbook, page 22, paragraph 4, I'm supposed to conclude this speech by telling you something that sounds really profound but doesn't mean a thing. I'm supposed to lower my voice, as best I can, and say something like, "Today is the day after tomorrow's day before yesterday."

Well, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to give you some important, straightforward advice.

You can't ever let anyone tell you that you can't do something.

Of course, in a sense, by telling you that, I'm telling you that you can't do something.

So, in closing, to make myself perfectly clear: Take my advice, and don't listen to me.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is weingarten@washpost.com.

Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon.

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