Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pomp, Circumstance & Pride

That title sounds like a Jane Austen novel.

It's graduation season, the days of droning speeches no one will remember telling young people flattering lies about how much the world eagerly awaits them. I still remember the disappointment of learning otherwise, my cockiness hitting indifferent reality like a rocket sled blasting into a concrete slab. "But . . . but I have a degree!" Ha ha ha ha ha! Sometimes I slay me.

Still, it's a good excuse to share some relevant videos. First up is cartoonist Mike Peters, speaking to the 2012 graduates of his alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis. There was some furor when the university invited Mike to speak. Some students evidently thought they deserved better than a Pulitzer Prize winner. They didn't know Mike.

I don't know Mike either, but I have met him and had the great pleasure of seeing him speak at the San Diego Comic-Con a few years ago. Moderated by writer Mark Evanier, who had the grace to ask a few questions and then stay out of the way, that panel was one of the funniest one-man acts I've ever seen. Mike is effervescent, and appears to be the same off stage as on.  He's a bit less frenetic in this video than he was in San Diego but tells some of the same stories, and I enjoyed it a lot. If you ever get a chance to see him speak in person, I guarantee a good time.

Next, a more reflective and sober (though still witty) commencement speech by writer Neil Gaiman that I think holds great wisdom, especially for anyone interested in a creative vocation. Gaiman and Peters come around to similar points, which is to figure out what you love and then go do it. Somehow.

Honestly, I've always thought that Joseph Campbell's admonition to "Follow Your Bliss" was facile, crummy advice. It strikes me as one of those things that's very easy to say after you've followed your bliss, gotten lucky and succeeded, but is cruelly patronizing to those who wanted or tried to follow their bliss but were stymied by very real responsibilities. Or bad luck. Or failure. Not everybody makes it no matter how hard they try; you only hear inspirational speeches from the ones who do. We can't all be astronauts and rock stars. But I really like Gaiman's metaphor of viewing your goal as a mountain, and weighing choices based on whether they move you toward or away from the summit. That's not a bad blueprint for managing a life, I think.

Plus he's British, so anything he says sounds smart.

Finally, because my daughter Robin grudgingly allows it, here's a video of her receiving her masters degree a couple of weeks ago. What's nice about this is that her Anthropology department (under which Archaeology falls) decided at the last minute to hold its own commencement separate from, but concurrent with, the larger school ceremony in the football stadium. The result was a nice intimate ceremony in a packed theater with 40 undergrads and five or six masters candidates, combined with the general excitement and hubbub of a schoolwide celebration. It was a pretty great day.

Now get out in that big wide world, which isn't impressed by and doesn't care about you in the least, and make a difference! Yay!

1 comment:

ronnie said...

Congratulations to Robin! Quite an achievement.