Quiet Desperation

Failing to be facile was tassel-related hassle


You might think being chosen to speak at a high school graduation ceremony would be a welcome opportunity, especially for someone who is filled with opinions and loves the English language.

No, I was mortified and begged them to reconsider.

The one I gave might have been the worst high school graduation speech in history.

It was humorless, for one thing, and veined with seriosity.

That night, inside a ninety-degree gymnasium with humidity outside close to it, flashed before my eyes when I read, “Ousted California principal escorted off campus after graduation speech.”

Ben Nakamura, former principal at Stagg High School in Stockton, Calif., “focused more on his grievances with the school district than the students he was meant to send off in the world,” the article read.

I made the same mistake by focusing on myself instead of the group in green gowns sitting behind me, or the parents in front of me who had made sacrifices on behalf of their children, and demonstrated inordinate patience with the menu of problems many teenagers face.

The word “ceremony” gives me a pain.

Defined as a “ritualistic event with a purpose,” a graduation ceremony is usually a dull affair with too much pomp for me.

The ritualistic event with a purpose I am in favor of is called “lunch.”

Not the ones with robes and mortarboards.

If you’re wondering where a mortarboard gets its name, it comes from the board brickmasons use to hold mortar.

They slip, slide, look silly, and come with tassels you’re supposed to move from the right to the left once you’ve graduated.

Then what? For some reason, you’re expected to throw the mortarboard in the air.

“Student loses sight in one eye from mortarboard incident.”

I should have opened with a joke.

“Why did the teacher marry the janitor?”

“Because he swept her off her feet.”

But I didn’t.

Believe it or not, I’d like to do it all over — a Mulligan — and try my best not to be so profound (i.e., pretentious) and avoid clichés like the plague.

I’d say something about the teachers too. I don’t know how they do it. Or why. The pay is low, the disrespect high.

“Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?”

The story goes that the script of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” took six days to write.

It has its moments. The scene in the Art Institute is the best.

The film’s overall theme seems to be that high school is the enemy.

Likewise, the overall theme of “The Breakfast Club.”

Both movies were written and directed by John Hughes.

High school isn’t the enemy. Neither are the principals nor the teachers. The bullies are.

If I were given the opportunity to give my speech over, I’d name the names of the bullies and the ones they bullied.

That would be something, wouldn’t it?

But there’s a hitch and it’s a big one.

The gymnasium is gone, the school is gone, and a third of my classmates are gone. A few died in the war.

The speech I gave was years and years ago in an Ohio high school that has since been closed because of low enrollment.

I’d close with a joke. Maybe what Charles Schulz said.

“Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It’s already tomorrow in Australia.”

Class of 2021, good luck. You’ll need it.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at ­craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.

Ben Nakamura, Craig Marshall Smith, Facile, Highlands Ranch, tassels, The Breakfast Club, Highlands Ranch


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