MAD DOG: A Few Words Before You Graduate

Graduation day is one great big Kodak moment -- smiling families, proud professors, and beaming students filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment. And well it should be. After all, it's the culmination of six or seven years of hard work, intense studying, and waking up day after day wondering whose floor it was you passed out on.It's also an event full of pomp, circumstance, and sheepskin diplomas that conveniently come with the messy wool already shorn so you don't have to comb it before you have it framed. Not to mention the stern lecture from Mom about how a cap and gown doesn't mean a backwards baseball cap and a night gown. But before you pass through the collegiate portals into the brave new world that awaits you (known in many cultures as hell), there's one more obstacle you have to get through: the graduation speaker.There are three parts to a graduation ceremony: the benediction, the speeches, and the butchering of the graduates' names. The benediction is the shortest part. This is when a priest, rabbi, or Tai Chi instructor blesses the graduating class, preferably after a group sneeze.Then come the speeches. Speeches are to graduation ceremonies what the iron maiden was to the Spanish Inquisition. While the speeches are intended to educate, inform, and inspire, their true function is to see who can sleep the longest with their eyes open without snoring, drooling, or letting their chin touch their chest. (NOTE: Letting your chin touch the chest of the girl sitting next to you automatically eliminates you from the contest but increases the chances of your getting lucky on graduation night. Well, if you're a guy and you don't pass out first.)First the president of the university speaks. Then the deans of each school take a turn. Next the provost speaks, even though no one knows who he is, what he does, or that his title is actually Latin for provolone, meaning "some kind of big cheese." Then, just so they won't feel left out and go on strike, the professors, associate professors, undergraduate assistants, librarians, head groundskeeper, and Bertha -- the cafeteria worker with the hair net, weeping sores, and the bad attitude -- each give a speech.At this point anyone who hasn't already committed suicide -- or at least paged Dr. Kevorkian twice -- gets to hear the valedictorian speak. The valedictorian is the student in the graduating class with the highest grade point average, which is defined as the highest amount of money donated by parents during the school year. The valedictorian usually graduates summa cum laude, sometimes magna cum laude, and occasionally pretends to know what all this means.Then comes the guest speaker. While all colleges aspire to attract the top name speakers -- like the President of the United States, Stephen Hawking, and Valerie Bertinelli -- most have to settle for less. This year the usual crop of speakers will show up, including Senators, theologians, and robber barons masquerading as corporate weasels. They'll be joined, of course, by novelists, activists, astronauts, and the one guy on the Jerry Springer Show who didn't get into a fight. Like anyone wants to hear that wimp talk.As always, there will be actors giving graduation speeches. Jim Carrey is undoubtedly at Anywhere University right this moment getting ready to speak to the future leaders of our country, causing at least one father to scream, "You mean I just paid more for your education than I did for our house and all we get is a speech from the Cable Guy?""But Dad, he earned $20 million for that movie.""Is he single?"Since schools like nothing better than to have topical speakers who are in the news, I imagine Koko the Gorilla received a number of invitations this year. Koko, for those who don't watch Eye on Simians every night on MSNBC, is the gorilla who recently held a live chat on AOL, signing answers to questions typed in by people whose other browser was showing pictures of Gwynneth Paltrow's head on Pamela Lee's naked body. Since this live chat was so successful, AOL is planning future online sessions with Marcel Marceau, the cast of Stomp, and the ghost of Harpo Marx.Maybe I'm just jealous because no one asked me to speak at their graduation ceremony. This is a shame, because I know what I'd tell the students:First, stop fidgeting in your seats. Second, quit asking your neighbor who the hell this Mad Dog guy is. Third, don't talk during movies. Fourth, hold your breath until Dad takes back the '66 Valiant he gave you for graduation and buys you a brand new Volkswagon Beetle. And finally, go into this world using everything you learned in college and do what you do best: get drunk, pass out, and wake up tomorrow wondering whose floor it is you slept on.Now get out of here, I've got work to do.

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