Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wish Me Luck . . . or Hope I Bomb: It's Your Choice.

So later today I am going to deliver the commencement speech to the EBHS class of 2010 at the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton.  I am fairly nervous because I've never spoken in an Arena before . . . past speakers have told me it's pretty weird: you hear an echo and you can see yourself on the big TV screen.  I am sure I will screw something up.  I am trying to memorize my speech so it sounds natural and I don't have to fumble around with paper, but I typed it up in case I look out into the sea of 5000 faces and freeze up. As a special treat, I am giving readers of G:TB and Sentence of Dave a sneak preview of the speech . . . I won't actually deliver it until 11:30 AM, so this is a real perk for fans.  You will be in the know.  Also, if anyone who knows me well reads this and decides the speech is totally stupid, you have until 11:30 to text me a better speech.  I thank you in advance.  I'll try to report back later in the day on how it went. 

                                                             
                                                             My Speech 

Good morning.  I would like to thank all the parents for raising such bright and engaging kids, and I would like to thank the Class of 2010 for selecting me to speak.  I felt like a celebrity when this was announced: students came up to me in the hallway and congratulated me . . . and then immediately gave me specific suggestions for the speech: I had you for four different classes-- you have to say my name . . . you SAID our Shakespeare class was the best ever, so you should mention ALL of our names . . . you're going to say something about our undefeated eighth grade soccer team, right? . . . and although I can't accommodate all these requests, I certainly was certainly flattered by the attention.  It made me feel appreciated and loved.

  
Then one particular student looked me in the eye, and she said, in a very serious voice: "I voted for you and I'm glad you got selected.  I expect a lot from you." Then I didn't feel so happy anymore. Instead, I felt a great weight on my shoulders to say something profound.  So I will try my best to give you some advice you can carry with you into the real world, although I feel horribly under-qualified to do this, since I spend my days teaching kids about books inside the safety of the high school, and you are walking out those stadium doors into the unknown.

My wife and I have two little boys at home and one of the things they like to do-- one of their hobbies-- is running around the house and slamming doors, usually on their little fingers and toes. We're are always yelling at them:  don't play with doors!  You don't play with doors! I use that deep crazy Darth Vader parent voice: Doors are not for playing with! My kids are a lot younger than you, but this is still good advice, especially since graduation is about walking out the doors of East Brunswick high school and opening new doors to new places.  Let me give you a couple of helpful examples.



The first is from when I was in college, but I think it's useful for any of you that are pursuing a career in the military as well. If anyone is going to serve in the military-- don't do this.  I had a noon anthropology class, and it was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, and all my friends were outside playing Frisbee and I was stuck in this huge lecture class-- a classroom like L7-- but much bigger. Tiered seats, a couple hundred students. You walked in at the bottom and climbed steps to get to your seat.  After the sign in sheet came around, and I signed in-- we had sign-in sheets in those days-- I decided I would try to make my escape. The professor certainly didn't need me in there-- like I said, there were a couple hundred students, but my friends needed me.  Frisbee needed me.  But I didn't want to walk down all the steps and exit the way I came in.  I would have to walk right past the professor. He might ask where I was going.  It would be awkward and I had no excuse. It would be obvious that I had signed in and bolted.  I needed a different route, a stealthy route, an escape route . . . and there it was, at the top of the stairs, a door, my door to the outside where it was beautiful; the door out of this lecture hall and to the place where all my friends were.



So when the professor turned to write on the board, I realized this was my chance. I made a break for it; I ran up the steps-- BOOM, BOOM, BOOM-- and through the door. It took a second for my eyes to adjust. It was dark, but in a moment I realized that something was wrong.  There were too many walls. It was a wall and a wall and then another wall. This wasn't a hallway to the outside. It didn't go anywhere. It was a dark box. I was in some kind of closet. There was a little open window next to the door. I poked my head through. Everyone was staring at me, including the professor. Some people were laughing. Others were confused.  They were all wondering why someone had trapped himself in the projection room, the little alcove where you set up the camera to show a movie.  There was only one way out-- the way I went in. I sheepishly opened the door and slunk back to my seat, embarrassed and foiled by poor planning. I'm sure you get the point here: map your route. You need to have some idea where you are going before you barge through a door. You have to do some reconnaissance.

But no matter how prepared you are, you can't always know what to expect. I will end with this example, which is a little more puzzling. I'll be honest, I rarely tell this story, because I don't know what the exact lesson is.  Before we had kids, my wife and I taught for several years in the Middle East, and we were on a camping trip with some Canadians and Norwegians-- the Norwegian lady had the car through her embassy-- and we were driving far out into the Western Desert, the huge wasteland between Syria and Iraq. We were in a desolate area. It wasn't beautiful sand dunes like the Sahara, instead it was endless fields of black and white stones, and extinct volcanoes in the distance-- a creepy place-- and we had to stop for gas.  I got out of the car and asked the attendant for the bathroom in my primitive Arabic: "Weyn hamman?" 



The man took me by the arm and escorted me around to the back of the low concrete building-- I could see out into the desert-- and he nudged me towards a door and said, "Faddal."  There you go. I opened the door. It was dark, but I had been in some sketchy bathrooms before, so I went to step inside, but as I stepped into the darkness, these two horns came flying at me, right at waist level. Right at my groin. I had to grab them to keep from being castrated. I'm pretty sure I screamed. But the creature was tied up, so it couldn't actually gore me.  The animal was an oryx, this antelope-like creature, like a mountain goat, but with two long straight horns. They used to thrive in the desert, but now they were nearly extinct.  We had seen some at a reserve in Jordan.  They were very rare . . . aside for the one this guy kept in his broom closet.  And the Syrian guy, this Syrian Ashton Kutcher, he was laughing and laughing.  This was his practical joke, when people asked to go to the bathroom, he led them to this door and then watched them jump-- and though it was a cruel joke, it was kind of funny. And it was more cruel for the poor oryx tied up in the dark closet than it was for me. There's not much entertainment in the middle of the desert, and I'm sure my reaction made him happy for a long time. The American guy who shrieked like a little girl. I was too shocked to appreciate the humor then, though. I went to the bathroom and then got into the car and told my wife and friends what happened. I'm not sure if they even believed me. 


And what was I supposed to do? I didn't know the number for the Syrian SPCA.  Should I have contacted PETA? A rescue mission out there wasn't really practical. Should I have been happy I wasn't impaled? Happy that I got to see an endangered species up close? Honestly, I still don't know what to make of it, except this: when you open a door, I can't tell you exactly what to expect. This is the real world; you have to be prepared for anything. You might walk through a door and trap yourself in an A/V closet in front of hundreds of people. You might walk through expecting a dirty gas station toilet and instead get a pair of horns coming at your crotch from the darkness.  I can't tell you what you're going to find. I can't tell you how to react. But, class of 2010, I will tell you this, unlike my kids, you are old enough to play with doors, so plan your route and open as many as you can. I have spent the last three years with you, and I can confidently say that whatever you encounter, you will conquer it. Thanks and good luck out there.

23 comments:

Igor said...

This is perfect. Just like the only wedding toast I've ever heard that referenced seminal fluid, this will be the only American commencement speech to use the word "castrated." Kudos.

T.J. said...

Shouldn't this speech be just a sentence?

zman said...

This meets my baseline criterion for an excellent graduation speech: you did not quote Dr. Seuss. For a second I thought you were talking about the Lorax but it was an oryx so you're fine.

Squeaky said...

Igor, right. You might want to leave out the word castrated.

rob said...

what the fuck do you have against seuss, zman?

Squeaky said...

Ok, which game to watch this morning? FRA vs RSA or MEX vs URU.

TR said...

You have to watch France-South African and pull hard for the host countries. Rooting against the Blues has never been easier.

TR said...

1-0 South Africa!!!!

Squeaky said...

TR. I picked the right game. Red card for FRA player.

TR said...

And now the Frenchies are playing with 10 men after one of their guys threw a brutal dirty elbow on a header. Sacre bleu!

TR said...

France's best striker has been sent home, its aging, yet potent striker has collected dust on the bench for three matches and its captain in the first two matches has been benched.

Zidane's gonna start headbutting his former teammates.

Squeaky said...

FRA 0 RSA 2. yes.

zman said...

I have nothing against Dr. Seuss, I just dislike the unoriginal and/or the cliche'd. I've heard "Oh! The Places You'll Go" at more graduations than I can remember. It's tired. Oryxian castration tales, however, are a new and interesting twist on the graduation speech.

Jerry said...

Bunch of douchebags in East Brunswick. You shouldn't be nervous about them.

RSA needs to pick up 2 more goals on Mexico.

Jerry said...

Everyone at the top of our pool picked France.

Squeaky said...

So anyone hear from Dave? Wondering how the speech was received.

mayhugh said...

I would hope he took the rest of the day off. And that he didn't use the word 'castrate' or any derivative.

T.J. said...

I hope he played the Fray on his way out..."how to save a sentence"...

Igor said...

I heard Dave got pantsed by some South Brunswick degenerates.

Of course, pantsing a hairy Italian guy who always looks like he's wearing wool sweats is less effective than you'd think.

Squeaky said...

I you grew up liking The Smiths, you got to check this site out.

http://tbz.me/wZ1cc

She is trying to doing vocal renditions of every Smiths song.

Link is to How Soon Is Now.

mayhugh said...

In honor of France, who probably could not have left a worse impression during the cup. Harry was right (wait for it).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3o5SB1CfgU

Dave said...

i made it through the speech-- and though there were nearly five thousand people in attendance, i managed to say "castrated," "groin" and "crotch" and still keep my speech under five minutes. i also forgot to take the typed speech out of my robe, so i ad-libbed the whole thing. god knows what i said-- i hope i never have to do this again.

Igor said...

Your robe? Like a cap and gown robe, or were you dressed like Hef at the ceremony?