The Merry Month of June

“Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.” – Al Bernstein

June is a month imbued with memories and memories in the making. If I were the month of June I would be stressed out—so much is expected of it and 30 days does not seem long enough to hold all of the expectations. It is the month when summer starts officially—in fact this year it raises its sunny head on Saturday at 6:51 a.m. I know this because I read the comics every day, and in the strip Mutts, Mooch the cat is told this fact by his dog friend. (Over the years I have gleaned much wisdom from comic strips—it is an education in itself). It is also the beginning of the summer wedding season; the month of graduations; the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation for many a student.

I graduated from public school, high school twice (grades 12 and 13) and from university. I do not remember a thing that was said at any of these graduations. I do not remember what any of the speakers told us and barely remember the essence of the valedictorians’ speeches. Mostly I just listened to hear if my name would be mentioned, and since I was not a memorable student, it never was.

I have quoted Anna Quindlen’s commencement speech (A Short Guide to a Happy Life) a few times because I think she had some wise words to impart, and I liked what she said, but I wonder how many of those who heard it really went away with anything of import. I ask this because I read an article in the Weekend National Post by Benjamin Errett in a column called “The Week in Wit”. His article, cheekily called “Good Luck With Life” addressed “the futility of the modern address to the graduates.”

Errett’s advice to anyone picking up an honorary doctorate is to “just collect it” and not give a commencement speech because (a) they are silly; and (b) no one wants your advice. He does not stop there, and I think he has a point. He is not addressing public or high school graduates, just university, so if you are giving a commencement speech to those under the age of twenty, I guess you have his blessing. Here is his reasoning for not speaking to university graduates:

“….commencement speeches are silly. No one wants your advice. Your audience will have spent the last four years acquiring and honing their skills, at least in theory. (I like that he adds this line: at least in theory). They will have learned from the best minds in the world, at least in theory (again with the theory…) and if they don’t know much in practice, they at least do in theory. (!!) So the idea that you will impart an hour’s worth of wisdom on How to Live to a bunch of cynical adults sweating under mortarboards (and if I remember correctly a very heavy purple gown with a stole that kept slipping on a day that was over 90 degrees F) is a bit out-dated, to say nothing of the fact that you made your name in a world that looks nothing like the one they face.”

I remember little from the day I graduated from university other than the fact that I wish I had worn something really light under my gown and not the little suit vest and skirt and long sleeved blouse I had donned. It was hot and I could not wait for my name to be called so I could venture across the dais to grasp my hard-won diploma in my sweaty hand. It turned out that the diploma was really just a rolled up piece of paper tied with a ribbon. The “real” diploma arrived weeks later in the mail. I do not remember a word that was said that afternoon. Not one word. Admittedly, it was eons ago, but I believe that as I was enjoying my graduation dinner with friends and family at a favourite upscale restaurant of my choice, I did not remember a word then either.

Errett’s advice to those who ignore his initial advice not to make a commencement speech is this: “…if you have to talk, be funny.” This is the best advice ever. I remember if not the words – the essence of the valedictorian’s speech from my grade 12 graduation, and while she was sincere and probably said all the right things, she added a dollop of humour—and it was the humour that I remember—not the ‘go forth be successful’ message.

Published in: on June 17, 2014 at 4:40 pm  Comments (21)  
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21 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You think graduations are worth the trouble?

    • many people don’t turn up for graduations–personally I like them–they feel like you have finished something

      • I’m guilty of that. As a parent, I wonder how I would feel should my daughters ditch

      • my youngest son did not go to his college graduation and I must admit I feel cheated

      • I think my husband was slightly disappointed I didn’t walk. Just didn’t want too. I would respect their decision but I think I would miss the chance to cheer my gals on.

  2. June usually is such a busy month. I haven’t listened to many graduation speeches lately, but smiled when reading these excerpts from Errett. We’re heading back down to Lower Michigan for my dad’s 80th for a week or so. It will be nice to get away. I’ll wave at you.

  3. Somebody gave a speech? I don’t remember a word of it. All I seem to recall about graduation is the ridiculous fee and uncomfortable shoes. June is an incredible month. My son and I both celebrate June birthdays. Happy summertime, LouAnn

  4. I don’t remember a word of any speeches least of all university…..although I as a parent remember fondly that of my girls….maybe that’ s who the speeches are for…the parents!

  5. I don’t remember anything that’s been said during any of my graduations. All I remember are my blunders! Like how I should have climbed the stairs slowly, and I should’ve waited a few extra seconds for the photographer to take a proper picture of me instead of one where I snatched the degree and bolted. >.>; So many embarrassing memories.

  6. I think you’re right about not remembering big ceremonies and what is said… but I guess it’s tradition and there’s something to be said I think for tradition… The day I got married is a blur…speeches etc except for my husband who when they ‘tinkled the glasses’ thought it was his cue to stand up and give his speech… ‘humour’ remembered like you said… Diane

    • the day I got married was a blur too–but since we have been together for 32 years I guess it took

  7. I think you’re right about not remembering speeches at the big ceremonies…. but there’s something to be said for tradition I think…….Only one of our three children went to college.. and he wasn’t going to go to his graduation but we coerced him into going …we thought he would regret it if he didn’t but I think I also would have been sad…. Diane

  8. ha ha ha… oops I thought the first comment got erased and decided to change what I said…. so you got ‘double’… Diane

  9. I don’t remember who spoke at mine. My youngest son graduated twice with a BA and a PhD…. I don’t remember the speakers. My other son son graduated with a BA and an MD, and I DO remember one of the speakers. Just the BA one. Why? Words of wisdom? Nope. Celebrity. It was Christopher Reeve. But do I remember what he said? No….

  10. It hasn’t been that long since I graduated and I don’t remember anything either. I DO remember that the speaker was a last-minute change from actor James Franco to a top official from the UN. Don’t remember what he said but I remember that he made us laugh more than once. Hence, the humor thing is definitely important. And June is definitely the month for weddings! Over the past few weeks I’ve seen plenty of marriage and engagement announcements all over my social media, to the point that I start to wonder if I should be hopping on this trend too (forgetting the fact that having a partner is an important prerequisite to all of this).

  11. I do thing that Errett’s advice is on point.

  12. I always remember my university graduation because Lincoln Alexander (former Governor General) was our chancellor. He said some little bit of wisdom to each grad as they came up – and at my turn, the wisdom I got was “Heidi – that’s spelled H-e-I-d-I, right? See. my education got me somewhere.” 🙂

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