My mind wandered, as I listened. I always wonder why people choose as they do, how they come to what they say. I made something up.
An Imaginary Graduation Speech
Most likely you’re not listening to a word I say. Probably all to the good. Other things are afoot.
Probably you’re noticing your chair’s lack of seat padding, or the temperature shifting as breezes rise, or those whiskers you missed when shaving. Or, you’re looking at the bracelets on the arm of the woman in front of you, the nape of your boyfriend’s neck, the program piece on the history of Commencement at Princeton. Possibly, just possibly, you’ve tilted your head back and are lost in the patterns of the star-shaped leaves on the tree over your head.
Today is your graduation, or your child’s, or your beloved’s or grandchild’s or student’s.
Let me tell you right now that nothing is ever going to change. All you are ever going to have is right here.
What do I mean? Are we doomed to sit on the lawn of Nassau Hall with mud between our toes, forever? Of course not sillies. This is deconstruction. Analysis for root cause. Exactly as you humanities, and science, and engineering students have done these last 4 years – seeing things in their most elemental units.
At base, there’s You. Yourself. Your feelings and sensations. And then, there’s the Not You.
Granted, there will be fewer gonfalons, later.
Does that mean this is the peak of your life? Does that mean it’s downhill from here? Does that mean there’s nothing left to learn?
Do you think anyone in their right mind would tell you that? Cruel and wrong.
In only one scenario is this the peak of your days. If you, starting now, focus on yourself exclusively. If you let the chair seat and the sweat on your upper lip and the things you said last night overcome your capacity to notice.
I’m not saying you’re not worthy of attention. You’re stuck with you. Might as well gain a little understanding so that you can get out of your own way. But you’ve already got you. So if you look inwards only, your data sets, your texts, your vision, will stay small always.
The precept is logical. The greatest source of learning at hand, now, tomorrow, 25 years from now, 34 years from now, is the Not You.
What is the Not You? Oh dear lord children it is vast. Wait, you may be thinking, we are not children. Sure you are. We are all children somewhere and somehow.
Life is short, the world a large and glorious phenomenon.
I read once that the human metabolism responds differently to vistas and the randomness of nature than to mechanics. We also know that people live longer and more vigorously when we find and root ourselves in community.
Those dark leaves over your head and the nape of that beloved neck are the point.
Wait, where are my manners? Please pay attention.
Thank you very much.