An uncliched look at seniors’ last words

Commencement speeches have been riddled with cliches and pocketed with lies since the Middle Ages. See, I just completely made up a sweeping and entirely not factual argument in a sentence, and it fit right into the mold of the traditional address. So why are a bunch of brilliant and interesting students from the Vassar College class of 2015 going to all sit together for another cliche filled custard? To understand this we need to examine the long history of celebrating academic achievement that we get roped into when we are 11 years old. When I made the momentous step in my life of graduating elementary school, our class of bucktooth or stringy-haired kids (I was both) got up on stage to say their name and a word that they had chosen that best described them. Naturally, this meant a lot of preparation, because most 5th graders don’t know polysyllabic words other than “McNuggets”. We were so busy learning about words that you don’t use in a typical game of “Shove each other into the asphalt”, that we neglected to even question the nature of the tradition. In fact, I think the word choice absurdity was the only time that every one of us followed instructions from our teachers. I got up on stage and said, in a high pitched voice that I did not yet know would persist into high school: “I’m Zander Bashaw and I’m determined!” Determined to do what? Dive off of the stage into the arms of slightly proud, mostly bored parents? Eat Cristiano Ronaldo’s heart on live television? I could have meant literally anything, but people just smiled, which made me feel smart and important. These feelings distracted me from how idiotic it was to describe myself in one word, when in reality there were so many that I could have used at that time such as annoying, unclean or competitive. I remember Middle School and High School graduations as times when people received awards in the names of people they didn’t know for things that they probably didn’t do. I recall both times sitting in formal clothes that didn’t fit me very well and listening to various deans say things like “Even though we have had our ups and downs, this class is a big family.” Why would a family of hundreds of people all go to the same school and all be the same age? Also at that point a lot of us had slow-grinded at dances and that is certainly not something that families do… High school graduation had all the hormones of middle school, but somehow more references to that infernal Dr. Seuss book Oh, the Places You’ll Go. Don’t get me wrong, Seuss’ work on the Grinch was fantastic, and I have liked green eggs and ham ever since I tried them, but Oh the Places You’ll Go is one of the shittiest things ever. I think that the book encourages a dependence upon hallucinogenic drugs, because if you stay in school like the Dean reading an excerpt from this book wants you to, you are certainly not going to go to many of the places that Seuss sketches. If there is a point in your life when you graduate or grow up, but I guarantee you it is not when you are sitting in traditional clothes and listening to old people say some shit about you. Imagine that college is like writing a paper, and that commencement is turning it in. Some people wrote it in 45 minutes, some people called their moms about it, others spent hours agonizing over it only to change topics later. In the end, everyone reaches commencement the way that you reach an unfamiliar professors office to hand in a final paper. Sweaty, stressed, trying not to shit yourself as you run across the quad and realize all you have eaten for the past 9 days is ketchup and Deece coffee. Graduating is not at all about graduation, it is about all the dusty dorms, late nights and Bud Lights you had along the way. It doesn’t matter that you turned in the paper that was due at 3pm at 2:59:56, it matters what you actually did before you got there. Now I’m sure that I will forget all of this by the time I graduate and allow the familiar cliches to wash over me like a cleansing rain, but I can assure you that if I hear anyone talk about that Oh the places you’ll go book on my commencement, I’ll set my cap, gown and (hopefully) diploma on fire.

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