Feeling wistful and nostagic these past couple of weeks. Stumbled upon the speech I gave at our graduation ceremony when I got my Master’s from Antioch in Spring of 2002 (of course 9/11/01 was still pretty fresh and heavy on everybody’s minds then. Thank god THAT bullshit’s over and done with, right? Oh. . .right. . .) I wrote this speech at about 4am the morning of in pretty much one shot. Looking at it now, it’s not perfect, but if I had a chance to go back in time and change a word or two, I wouldn’t.
. . .how’s your millennium going so far? I started at Antioch a year and a half ago. It’s amazing how much can change in such a short amount of time. I stumbled upon the program by chance, and thought, “What could be more ideal?” Make my own rules. Sink or swim on my own terms. Rip through the underbrush and stomp out a path of my own. I don’t know about you, but I relish all the freedom I can get. Freedom. It’s a big issue with me. In theory it’s OUR biggest issue, right? As Americans, it’s our most “treasured asset.” We talk about it, cheer about it, holler about it, sing out loud and off-key about it, convince ourselves that other people hate us cuz we’ve cornered the market on it, and yet so many of us are willing to give it up. Out if fear. For the sake of “security.” Huddle down and duck and cover, cuz Big Daddy told us to. Right now we are once again dominated by a conservative status quo, and the message from the top is “Let us be of one voice. One quiet voice. If you disagree, you’re anti-American. If you question what’s going on, you’re unpatriotic. If you don’t march in line, and shop, and spend, and buy into the system then THEY, the invisible evil, have already won. Cooperate. Obey. Be appropriate. And hey, why would you want to dissent or do things differently anyway? It’s just so much trouble.”
These are the same people who will tell you “There’s nothing new under the sun.” That “it’s all been done before. All the stories have been told. All the notes have been played. We live in a constant state of rehash,” they say. “Why bother? What’s the point? It’s just so much trouble.” Yeah. And just when the cynical and complacent claim that “it’s all been done before,” along comes Igor Stravinsky. Or Stephen Hawking. Or Michelangelo. Or Ghandi. Maybe none of us in this hall today are on that level . . .but then again, maybe all of us are. It’s not about being a genius or a revolutionary, it’s about just trying something new. Anything. It’s about coloring outside the lines and dancing when the band stops playing. It’s about doing it cuz it IS so much trouble. Trouble is fantastic. Failure can be fantastic! Mess around, screw up, fall flat on your face. Fail! And fail again! Cuz if you fail twice, that means you didn’t give up. Provoke! Disgust! Offend if you have to! Be terrified and do it anyway. Cuz if we huddle down and duck and cover cuz Big Daddy told us to, then we are beaten. They, whoever they are for you, have won.
I’ve been supremely lucky to be surrounded by people who have allowed me to try to find my own ‘something new under the sun.’ Brilliant and attentive professors, instructors, and advisors who’ve been there to hand me a flashlight when I’m stumbling through the dark. Friends and fellow stumblers offering a hand or a stable shoulder, (cuz see, we’ve always stood united. We don’t need a flag or a pledge or some horrific tragedy to remind us of that.) Most of all, I’ve had a loving and supportive family who’ve allowed me to fail and fail again on my own terms, and trusted that even if I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, I’ll figure a way to work it out somehow. It’s been a difficult endeavor for me, as I’m sure it’s been for all of us. I know I’ve done my share of screwing up, and I hope you all have to, cuz then you know how rewarding it is in the end. I’m proud of the work I’ve done and have been amazed by the work that others have done. Perhaps in some small way, each of us can do, and are doing, our part to make tomorrow a little more tolerant, a little more compassionate, a little less fearsome and a lot less brutal. If nothing else, a helluva lot more interesting. I think we can. As Horace Mann said so perfectly, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” No problem. Best of luck to you. It’s going to be a great millennium. Thank you.