Jack Ohman

Challenging rhetoric for commencement addresses

As commencement time rolls around, it brings back fond memories of my college years spanning three decades – 1978-81, 1992-93, and 1998-99. However, I do not currently have an honorary degree other than from the McMinnville (Ore.) Rotary. It’s true, and I was so embarrassed that I went back to school and finally graduated.

In order to get an honorary degree, you have to give a commencement address. I have given a few, and here’s one I have in the can in case any celebrities need to cancel at the last minute:

To the Class of 2015: Wow. That sounds like a date in the cool spacesuit/flying cars/moon shuttle future. But it isn’t. We just have Old Navy/Priuses/Southwest Airlines instead.

I hate the way “2015” sounds, since that means you all were born around 1993. I still wear shoes from 1993, and here you all are college graduates. So let me give you some useful life advice, not couched in an Uplifting-Address-From-A-Major-Literary-Figure-Like-Khloe-Kardashian rhetoric.

Life is a series of challenges. Some of them, like going to “Settings” to get your iPhone to hook up with your Bluetooth speakers, are almost impossible. Others, like raising people your age without them thinking you’re ready for a planned retirement village at age 55 (six months away for me), are easy. All you have to do is earn $125,000 to pay off your student loans.

Let’s look at the economy. In October 2008, it was looking like we were standing on the edge of October 1929. Today, in June 2015, we are standing on the edge of June 1936, where the breadlines are significantly shorter and have gluten-free artisan selections.

Many of you will not be going to graduate school, which is fine. Graduate school for many is spending another two years studying subjects like “Silk Filatures and Peasant-Family Production in Wuxi County, China, 1865-1937” and “Thomas Wolfe’s Use of the Word ‘Home’: A Philological Conundrum.” Only one of those is a real Ph.D. thesis, so you might as well get out into real life.

Here’s real life: What phone plan is right for me that doesn’t sound like I’m signing the Bretton Woods Agreement? If I say I’m 6-foot-1 and “athletic” on Match.com, and I’m really 5-foot-9 and “average,” does that constitute breach of contract? If I buy a white Camry, is it a sign that I’ve simply given up? If my main conversational gambits are contrasting various opinions expressed on ESPN, should I change my social circle? Who is really hurt if I enjoy cat videos on YouTube? What is gluten? And quinoa, for that matter?

You see, Class of 2015, it’s the small things in life that are really the best. When I was growing up, we reveled in the small things, like knowing how many megatons a nuclear warhead would have to be in order to destroy my hometown. We also enjoyed simpler pleasures, like spending time trying to decide what brand of potato chip was the best for our social image and reveling in the modern design of the very sharp protruding ornaments on the dashboard of 1959 Plymouths, which we contemplated without wearing seat belts.

Airbags, shmairbags. You can’t have a factory recall of what ain’t there!

So, Class of 2015, let me offer a closing thought. I know a lot of you are concerned about your future: jobs, husbands, wives, children, alimony, child-support payments, and future college tuition in the UC system that rivals the sum total of Third World debt. I say to you, quite frankly, don’t worry. There will be exciting new leadership to help you.

George P. Bush and Chelsea Clinton.

Thank you. And avoid gluten.

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