baltimoresun.com

« The craft so long to lerne | Main | Wave goodbye as you rise into the sky »

The world will little note, nor long remember

I skipped my graduation from Michigan State, not caring to troop into Spartan Stadium in the hot sun with thousands of fellow undergraduates to be graduated in something like a Moonie mass wedding. I don’t remember the speaker when I got my master’s degree at Syracuse, but my father-in-law, as he then was, told me that the speaker was faithful to the text of his op-ed piece in the previous week’s New York Times.

Today I see on Twitter that The Washington Post has invited people to submit advice for this year’s graduates, and why should I supply free material to The Post?

Mr. President, esteemed faculty, honored guests, and member of the Class of 2011, thank you for this opportunity to share my life experience with you. You are free to forget it as you leave the auditorium, if not before, so relax.

Graduates, you may not have had a great deal of what is misleadingly called “life experience,” but you have been in classrooms for sixteen or more years and have encountered a range of personality types among your teachers. How many of them were jackasses?

As you enter the working world, you will be encountering jackasses in at least the proportion you encountered them among your teachers. Some of them will be your bosses, some your ineffective colleagues, and perhaps some your worthless subordinates. Dealing with jackasses is one of the most crucial life skills you can master.

You can defer to them, particularly when they are your bosses. You can subvert or work around their idiotic decisions or performances. You can butter them up and exploit their pathetic vanities. But on no account should you let slip your awareness of their jackassery. They can and will turn on you.

Much of the work you do in your career may seem pointless and boring. Most of the time it will be. Do not make the mistake of thinking that business is better run than governmental or educational bureaucracies—remember what I told you about the proportion of jackasses being constant.

If you really love your work, you will find ways to do it, no matter how frustrating the obstacles. If the work is merely something you have to do to live rather than something you can love, find the thing that you love to do and make room for it in your life.

Never let go of your irreverence. Humor is your main weapon against jackassery and pretense.

And remember the things that are perennially true. Stay away from watery American beer. Pick up after yourself. It’s still wrong to wear brown shoes with a blue suit or white after Labor Day. Don’t write in library books. Personal grooming is done in private, not at the table or in the workplace. Don’t tell any more lies than you absolutely have to. Don’t jump the line. Tie your own neckwear. Don’t heat fish in the office microwave. The highway is not a speedway. Take off your hat at table, in church, in court, at the library, and other places that merit your respect. Read books. Read more books. When you encounter people who aren’t jackasses, keep them close.

Your education is not finished, but I am.

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 1:45 PM | | Comments (27)
        

Comments

And never, under any circumstances, misplace a modifier.

Bravo. A thousand times over.

OMG. I'm in love with you. This is priceless.

p.s. I skipped both my high school and college graduation ceremonies. I think those of us who purposely avoid these sorts of things should form an online friends group. I'm guessing we'll have a blast, when we're not busy off doing our own thing :)

Boy would I be bummed if I heard this at my graduation. I guess you're not a glass-half-full kind of guy.
K-

Well, since no one remembers graduation speeches, the reaction would be transitory.

I would add only: "unless your religion or culture promotes the donning rather than the doffing of hats as a mark of respect." Jews, notably, become more hatted rather than more hatless as occasions becomes more formal.

For myself, I don't do neckwear and wear all colors at all seasons, but otherwise I agree wholeheartedly.

To the perennial truths, I would add these: never put tomatoes in the refrigerator, avoid travel for the holidays, and cultivate an eye and an ear for the mystery and beauty that surrounds you always--even in the registry of motor vehicles.

And every so often, look at yourself and make sure that you're not the one being the jackass!

That's the absolute best advice you can give to a graduate. I wish I would have had it a while ago; I have encountered way too many in my working career and have let my frustration result in anger. Where's the fine-line between accepting and overcoming and being pushed to the limits before exploding on said "jack-asses"?
Sara

That is an absolutely wonderful piece. One thing that it does not address is the fact that in many large corporations today the "jackasses" are a far larger constant than in the general public since they tend to "suck-up" far better than most. It shows to what lengths corporate America will go in it's endless striving for mediocrity.

This is awesome. So awesome, in fact, that I think I might frame it and hang it on my wall. And then maybe make a frame for a friend who I think really needs this (I did already send the link along).

I don't feel like I've never been told this, but I feel like I've never been told it so well.

Memorable, unlike those of the five commencements in which I have been a graduate. I remember only one person from that history. But I don't have the foggiest idea what he said. I hope you are invited to give the address at SU one of these days and can deliver this message.

The first part of your address seems to owe something to the old National Lampoon "Deteriorata": "Speak glowingly of those greater than yourself; and heed well their advice, even though they be turkeys. Know what to kiss--and when." Fortunately, you go on to rise above this source.

I would add only: Don't return evil for evil. And, if you manage to acquire a piece of the "noise and waste" spoken of elsewhere in the "Deteriorata," cultivate a garden on it--literally or metaphorically.

Susan Hunziker - Why don't you put tomatoes in the refrigerator?

Bucky-- I spent a few months in Italy, and the crowd I ran with regarded the refrigeration of tomatoes as further evidence of the Decline and Fall of the American Empire. The argument was that the cold damages the flavor to the point that it does not recover even when the pomodori are returned to their rightful place on the kitchen counter.

When I returned to the homeland, I ran across this same advice in a Marcella Hazan cookbook, which was all the proof I required. God had spoken.


Susan Hunziker,

Just curious. That "crowd (you) ran with" in Italy a while back wasn't reveling in the famed annual 'Running of the Tomatoes Festival" in Bologna, was it?

That would be the wild, almost surreal mass romp thru the quaint, narrow, cobble-stoned Oldtown streets, frantically dodging the constant barrage of tossed ripe tomatoes------ not unlike the annual "Running of the Bulls" in Pamplona, Spain, but thankfully far less treacherous. (Unless you have tomato allergies....... hives, and such. HA!)

Susan, clearly i'm pulling your leg here. Yet, there actually is an annual tomato tossing event somewhere in Italy, but not in Bologna. That, fair lady, was just a bunch of 'baloney' on my part.

However, as you may know, Valencia, Spain hosts a very serious,(but fun), and robust tomato fête every year called La Tomatina, in the usually bucolic little town of Buñol, every last Wednesday in August. The participants, as comic Jerry Seinfeld might describe it, just get jiggy-with-it, i.e., the tomatoes, and it eventually devolves into a bloody mess of writhing humanity, by the time the juice hits the pavement. Valencianese sauce as far as the eye can see. Everyone is literally seeing red.

As the aforementioned Jerry Seinfeld might say to his old pal Larry David, "What's the deal w/ refrigerating bananas?" I've been told, on authority, (Koko the gorilla), that it's actually best to keep ripened bananas in the fridge, but unripe, greenish ones should be left to ripen at room temps.

Susan, did you hear that Woody Allen* and veteran comic actor, John Cleese of Monty Python** fame, have recently conspired to have a banana throwing festival in the heart of Manhattan, along the lines of those madcap European tomato tossing bacchanals. Only over-ripe, brown-speckled, mooshy bananas allowed. And please, none of those monstrous plantains ....... could put someone's eye out, I dare say.

Susan, don't hold your breath on that one.

ALEX

************************

*Remember that early Woody Allen film, "Bananas", a satire on third-world
Latin American-style dictatorships?

**Always loved that classic 'Python' skit where Cleese plays a British army commanding officer, who is drilling his platoon of recruits on the various methods of counter-attack, depending on the weapon of the offensive party. One of the recruits suggests, "What if you're attached by a banana?" Of course, officer Cleese has an inane slap-schtick answer, and w/ banana-in-gloved-hand proceeds to demonstrate, as only the gangly master of physical comedy
can. Absolutely priceless!


Oops!

In my last post in my final footnote, that quote should have read. "What if you're ATTACKED by a banana?"

Somehow I unwittingly exchanged an "h", for the required "k", in "attack".(An honest faux pas, no?)

I suppose one could be "attached by a banana", but 'attached to bananas" might make more sense............ but not much. HA!

ALEX


Oops!

In my last post in my final footnote, that quote should have read. "What if you're ATTACKED by a banana?"

Somehow I unwittingly exchanged an "h", for the required "k", in "attack".(An honest faux pas, no?)

I suppose one could be "attached by a banana", but 'attached to bananas" might make more sense............ but not much. HA!

ALEX

Alex, the crowd I ran with used tomatoes for sauce and caprese sandwiches. I'm surprised to learn of a tomato bash in Italy as that would violate the one True Faith that I found Italians share: Food.

But, Americana that I am, I do hope to join the crowd at La Tomatina before I die, and given how close that event is becoming, I'd better get on it.

Susan Hunziker - Thanks for the explanation. I don't think I even know what a warm tomato tastes like, but I'm fixin' to find out.

Bucky, I suspect that Susan and her friends were dealing with home or locally grown tomatoes. I doubt that we can hold the expectations for grocery store tomatoes.

Eve, good point. So, I'm going to grow a tomato plant this summer and test it out.

I hope you can come give a speech if I ever graduate from somewhere again.

I'm adding this right away to my notebook of favorite quotations: "Never let go of your irreverence. Humor is your main weapon against jackassery and pretense."

In fact, I may need to put it on my bulletin board at work, in small, fortune-cookie-style type.


Erika,

Hmm........ I think our fearless leader, Prof. McI., may have extracted those inspirational lines, i.e., "Never let go of your irreverence. Humor is your main weapon against jackassery and pretense.", as a (not totally verbatim) quote from the late Chairman Mao Tse-tung's Little Red Book. HA!

And to reconcile in one's noggin that this very same wise guy, Mao, also wrote in one of of his many treatises on the strategy-and-tactics of modern warfare that essentially, "ALL power comes from the barrel of a gun." I sense a little hostility there. Mao was, indeed, a puzzling paradox.

That Mao was truly a rascal. As you may recall, in his dotage he allegedly faked film footage of himself swimming in the churning waters of the Yangzee River-----what appeared to most skeptics in the West to be merely a floating, disembodied head. He was clearly trying to show the world that even at his advanced age, he was still physically vital, and couldl continue to capably guide his mainland Chinese brethren on the righteous path of Communism. (And of course, this was decades prior to the advent of Photoshop. HA!)

Erika, frankly, your suggestion that you might tack that sage quote up on your workplace bulletin board, in perhaps Chinese style script, threw me completely off onto this inane Mao tangent. Hardly your fault.

But trust me, half-an-hour after reading my post, you'll be hungry for another. HA! It's not only the curious phenomenon of feeling hungry again after just eating Chinese food that has that unsatiated, craving-for-more effect on folks. Trust me.

Chow!

ALEX

A rascal indeed! An evil, vicious, mass-murdering b'st'rd of a rascal, bless 'im.

Alex, your remarks got me to thinking about fortune cookies (talk about segues!) One of my coworkers once created a needlepoint pillow based on a terse message in a fortune cookie: "Life is a struggle." Who could argue with that?


Picky,

True, Chairman Mao was right up there w/ the likes of scum-bags Hitler, Stalin, and Cambodia's Pol Pot as one of the most diabolically evil, brutal despots of the 20th century, responsible for extinguishing hundreds-of-thousands of innocent, formerly productive lives.

His ill-fated "Cultural Revolution", whose basic twisted overriding imperative was to rid China of all bourgeoise intellectuals, political dissidents, free-thinkers, and any vestige of all cultural aspects of 'old', traditional, dynastic China, by any means necessary, demonstrated the warped, and extreme measures this, (one could argue), intellectually brilliant, yet clearly megalomaniacal Red Communist zealot would countenance.

The West had high hopes that China,( moving into the 21st century, and fast becoming an increasingly significant economic force in the realm of global finance and commerce), would, domestically, perhaps become more open to freer, more open political expression, and mild populist dissent w/ the increased connectedness of China w/ the rest of the world, largely through the escalation in the use of electronic social media, particularly within the burgeoning youth demographic.

Sadly, Western optimism for a perhaps more politically progressive mainland China was short-lived, as it appears the poker-faced, bespectacled technocrat, General Secretary, Hu Jinto, current Paramount Leader of the People's Republic of China, and his partner-in-crime, Premier Wen Jiabo, complicit w/ their hordes of Communist Party underling stooges, have chosen the more Maoistic path by suppressing all threatening, vocal political opposition w/ trumped up arrests, generally swift, often in-camera trials of alleged dissidents, who basically after being found guilty of crimes against the state, disappear from public view, either incarcerated for long stretches, or an even more dire fate. (Can't believe that was ONE sentence. I should be shot......... or majorly edited. HA!)

Two of the most notable currently jailed high-profile Chinese dissidents are 2010 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Liu Xiaobo, (serving his second year of an eleven year sentence for "inciting subversion of state power"), and more recently, the world-renowned artist/ human rights activist, Ai Weiwei.

The cherubic, amiable, brilliantly talented, and charismatic Ai was once a kind of golden-boy of the Chinese Communist ruling elite as recently as 2007-2008, when he gained considerable notoriety as the chief artistic consultant to the architectural firm that designed and built The Beijing National Olympic Stadium, nicknamed "The Bird's Nest'. He basically came up w/ that clever lattice-like, impressive organic exterior design.

However, Ai was becoming more militant, and outspoken in his political dissent, post-2008 Summer Olympics, mainly expressed through his art, w/ a particularly damning (of the authorities), ambitious public art piece bringing to light the identities of all those unfortunate school children who perished in the major Sechzhuan earthquake a while back, crushed by alleged shoddily constructed schools.

I believe Ai had grown up in this particular far-flung region of western China, so he had a special empathy for the misfortunes of the locals directly impacted by the devastating quake; particularly for those scores of grieving parents who had lost their precious children to the disaster. With the official one-child-per-family policy in Communist China, for many of these parents, they had lost their only child.......a crushing emotional blow.

The Communist authorities were clearly not pleased w/ Weiwei's quake-related 'protest art', the upshot being that he was subsequently brutally beaten, nearly to death, likely by 'hired' Party goons. Some months later his newly built, massive art studio in Shanghai was totally leveled to the ground by a government-backed wrecking crew. This major personal affront appeared to only whet Ai's appetite for even more ardent political activism, always being expressed through his art.

Less than a month ago, Weiwei was arrested at Beijing airport by government security operatives, while heading off to an international grand opening of an installation/ sculpture exhibition of an array of his most recent creations. He never boarded the plane for his scheduled flight, and reports are that he's now languishing, indefinitely, under official state house arrest, but not behind conventional prison bars, or in physical restraints. Thank heaven for small mercies.

So Picky, the ghost of the autocratic, malevolently shrewd, and most cruel Mao Tse-Tung appears to still haunt the Chinese Communist collective ruling class. Perhaps fewer political dissidents are disappearing w/ nary a trace, and fewer anti-communist activists have felt the burn of the hangman's noose, or the fatal blast of the firing squad as during Mao's bloody, and repressive Cultural Revolution. But ironically, there seems to be a certain finality to a quick, and fatal dispatch, whereas the isolation, and deprivation of a long and unjustified incarceration, I would imagine, could be spirit crushing--- a kind of protracted, living death.

Not every longtime jailed dissident has had the courage and strength of will, and purpose as the great Nelson Mandella. For twenty-eight years of freedom denied, he continued to keep his eye resolutely on the ultimate prize-----an apartheid-free South Africa. But I digress.

Times they are a changin' in the Arab world--- the Freedom Spring of 2011, for better, or for worse, has arrived. Yet Communist China, w/ the horrific specter of the senseless slaughter at Tiannamen (sp. ?) Square in 1989 hardly that distant a memory, who really knows what desperate, reactionary, perhaps violent, tactics the current crop of inscrutable Chinese leaders might resort to, in an effort to defend, and sustain their outmoded ideological pipe-dream?

We know what that old rascal Mao would likely do. (Yet ANOTHER Five-Year Plan? HA!)

Cheerio, good fellow.

ALEX

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
Baltimore Sun Facebook page
-- ADVERTISEMENT --

Most Recent Comments
Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
Stay connected