|Highlights from Commencement
||[May. 19th, 2003|03:22 pm]
UNC's spring commencement was yesterday. There was the usual assortment of semi-random people saying important-sounding things... and then Bill Cosby got up on stage. There's no way I can do him justice, but I'll try to set down parts of what he said.|
"All of you out there in the blue gowns," he said, "don't do anything yet! Once you get back up in an hour or two, it's over. If you aren't ready just yet, you'd better stay in that seat!"
"Your siblings may be here today, too. They aren't too happy with you. They liked it when you went away. Your parents told them that you'd stay away! That you'd get a job! That you were going to be rich!"
"...They like your room, too. All they know about college is that you come home from time to time and seem to think your parents' house is a laundromat! ...Some of you even have clothes lined up RIGHT NOW!"
"Now that it's OVER, you're going to have to face up to the world. See, I know what you've been up to. I saw you on the TV when I was watching basketball. Yes, you!"
"You sure weren't acting like scholars then."
Eventually everyone picked themselves up off the floor and he went on.
You have a challenge ahead of you. See, over the last several years, these people around you have told you what they saw in you. So many times you haven't heard them because you didn't want to hear them, because it was hard for you to hear them. You never gave yourself the chance to see if you would crash and burn! You decided that before you even tried. But now... Now you're going to have to reach down into yourself and find your integrity. You've hidden it, hidden from it, before. Now you have to find it, feel it, grasp it, taste it, be it.
Your parents, your grandparents, your aunts and uncles are around you. Many of them didn't go to college for one reason or another. That doesn't make them stupid! They look at you and they recognize gold when they see it. That makes them beautiful people.
Then, as an example, he told the following story.
When I was at Temple University, I had a professor -- political science, I think -- named Dr. Lablonde. Now, much of the time he talked about Hegel's theory of dialectical material or some such, but every so often... he'd turn to the class, point, and shout "You! Tell me so-and-so!" And we'd go at it. Three hours twice a week, we'd get into these great arguments. "You're ignorant! You don't know anything!" "That's completely wrong!" and so on. Eventually, we'd get to the end of class and he'd speak up. "Mr. Johnson's answer is the correct one." That was that. At that point everyone fell over.
Now, one afternoon Dr. Lablonde came to class, stood up in the front, and stared at us. You could see the sweat on his skin. It almost, but never quite fell off his upper lip... We were so distracted watching him sweat that we had no idea what he was lecturing about! But one time he said the following:
"IS... the class... prepared to TELL me... whether the glass is half FULL or half EMPTY?"
Oh, we had fun with that one. "You're ignorant!" "You don't have any idea what you're talking about!" "You know, all this semester, you've never smelled right." (We got personal with that one.) Finally three hours had passed without any sort of conclusion, and we all left. I got on the subway -- I lived at home -- and thought about it and thought about it. I finally got back to my parents' house and found I didn't have my key. So, I set out for my grandmother's house. She had a door without a lock, you see. The way you opened your door was to put your shoulder to it -- WHAM! -- and it would open. There were actually two doors. The second one was the chicken door. You put your shoulder to the first one -- WHAM! -- and the second one would fly open, like "Okay! I get it! I'm opening now!". Grandmother always used to ask me about college. She had never gone, herself. She didn't finish high school. She left after... fifth grade? to go scrub doorsteps. She was always asking me, well, what do you do in college? What do you study? And I always tried to put her off, answer this or that, because I didn't know how to explain Hegel's theory of dialectical materialism to her.
Now, this afternoon she was making biscuits. She was really going at it. She was kneading the dough, tossing it, rolling it, punching it, and whenever I thought she was going to get out the glass and start cutting out biscuits, she'd fold it up again and start all over. I was really hungry, but I didn't want to tell her that. She was asking me, "Well, what do you study? What do you do?" So I told her, "We have these wonderfully enlightening discussions. We call each other names, we shout at each other, and we try to answer deep, meaningful questions. Today, for example, we spent three hours on whether the glass is half empty or half full, which was -- and is! -- an important question in philosophy."
She looked right at me and answered, "That depends on whether you're pouring or drinking."
Aha! A revelation!
That was on Tuesday. On Thursday I got up to go to class. I got all dressed up. I wore a suit and a tie. I went to sit in the classroom in the sleeper's section near the back... in the first row, even. I put my hand up. I had my hand up even before Dr. Lablonde came in. Finally class began and he pointed at me.
"Yes, Mr. Cosby?"
I said, "Dr. Lablonde, I have been giving a great deal of thought to the question from last class, whether the glass is half empty or half full. I've done my research. I've consulted the archives of the Greeks and the Romans. I have come up with the following answer:
It depends upon whether you are POURING or whether you are SMOKING."
Five minutes later, when we had regained some vague semblance of composure, he had some parting words for us.
Now, I want you all to consider something. Look around you. You see your parents and your family and your loved ones out there.
Someday, you're going to be those people.
Ha ha ha ha ha...
It was, all things considered, the very best commencement speech I've heard.