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Benched for Another Commencement Season

May 21, 2000|Steve Chawkins

Commencement season is upon us here in Ventura County and, ever the optimist, I await my invitation to address the graduates.

But once again, the schools are taking the easy way out. They have chosen as their speakers individuals who excel in their fields or have made substantial contributions to society.

After all I haven't done for them!

God forbid they should pick a speaker who isn't a big shot, although I confess to serving as interim treasurer of my high school's United Nations Club when the permanent treasurer was down with mono.

Would it kill them to acknowledge that life can turn out OK for those who dwell--as I did, come to think of it--in the earthbound half of the academic standings? Or has the maniacal quest for higher test scores driven all the educators mad?

Ah, well. The college graduations have started and the high schools' are just a few weeks away. I'm sure the speaking invitations went out months ago. But just to let you know: I have a number of availabilities left for speeches at cake-decorating schools, belly-dancing schools, preschools, driving schools, driving-while-impaired schools, big-box hardware stores' Saturday-afternoon tile-laying schools, and other academic venues.

Yes, I know it's an awesome responsibility. For nowhere else do speakers have a chance to reach so many vibrant young people who are so intensely wondering: When do we get to throw our hats?

I believe I can meet that challenge, or at least come darned close. Herewith, a rare glimpse of my yet-to-be-delivered commencement address:

Thank you for inviting me here this afternoon.

(Wait for laughter.)

In a more serious vein, let me try to define what we mean by "commencement."

Webster's defines "commencement" as "an act, instance or time of commencing."

However, if you also look up "didapper" in Webster's, you'll find out that it is "a small grebe (as a dabchick)."

In other words, Webster's is no help at all when it comes to the larger questions of life. For these, you need experience, intuition, street-smarts or a good source of avuncular wisdom. (Avuncular means "of or relating to an uncle." Look it up, for Pete's sake!)

If you ask me, commencement is a look backward and a step forward.

In this way, commencement is much like the tango but without rum drinks and a rose between one's teeth. Too many commencements can cause shooting pains down the legs, a chronic loss of precious funds and, perhaps, extensive chiropractic care. So be careful out there!

Perhaps the most important advice I can impart to you here today is contained in a famous quotation by an author nobody can remember: Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

Unfortunately, this is not true for History 101.

A recent Gallup Poll shows that just 66% of American teens can link Hitler with Germany, and just 25% can do the same for Winston Churchill and Great Britain.

Where do these kids think Hitler was from, New Jersey? And Churchill--Churchill--say, isn't that one of those chicken places you'd go to only if you really want chicken and there isn't a KFC nearby?

In any event, ignorance will be with us forever but that doesn't mean you have to fall for it.

In the immortal words of Shakespeare, "To thine own self be true."

The fact that these words were uttered by a character in Hamlet who was a devious, hypocritical blowhard hasn't kept commencement speakers everywhere from quoting them as if they were the 11th Commandment.

You will face many adversities as you become full-fledged members of society. Your body will sag. Your stocks will fall. I'd really rather not talk about the rest of it.

But when you confront a problem--large or small, whether it's incarceration or finding a restaurant that does really good fish--remember this: The Chinese character that means "problem" is the very same character that means: "Yikes! I'm outta here!"

Interesting, isn't it?

In conclusion, let me leave you with several morsels of advice that will serve you well no matter where you sit in this vast banquet we call Life:

* Develop a strong handshake but not one that can crush small rodents or other living things.

* Eat less tofu than you claim.

* Live at least long enough to inhabit a world in which no one ever again says "dot-com."

* Never play poker with a woman named Mom, eat at a place called Doc's or go into therapy with someone whose problems are worse than your own.

* And this above all: To thine own self be true.


Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or at

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