April 12, 2007
By Ken Krayeske • 10:00 AM EST
Kurt Vonnegut gave the commencement address to the class of 1994 at Syracuse University. I was stoned and hungover in the audience (as a proper graduate should be). Luckily, Syracuse sent us all a register of graduates with the text of the speech.
He died yesterday. So, in honor of the passing of his great imagination, I will offer snippets of his speech.
It begins: "Four score and seven years ago." Woops. Wrong speech. Seriously, he said to us bright eyed graduates:
"There are three things that I very much want to say to the Class of 1994 in this brief hail and farewell. They are things which haven't been said enough to you freshly minted graduates nor to your parents or guardians, nor to me, nor to your teachers. I will say these things in the body of my speech. I'm just setting you up for this.
"First, I will say thank you. Second, I will say I am truly sorry - now that is the striking novelty among the three. We live in a time when nobody ever seems to apologize for anything; they just weep and raise hell on the Oprah Winfrey Show. The third thing I want to say to you at some point - probably close to the end - is, 'We love you.' Now if I fail to say any of those three things in the body of this great speech, hold up your hands and I will remedy the deficiency."
Then he thanked us for being educated. And then he said he was sorry.
"I apologize. I said I would apologize; I apologize now. I apologize because of the terrible mess the planet is in. But it has always been a mess. There have never been any 'Good Old Days,' there have just been days. And as I say to my grandchildren, 'Don't look at me, I just got here myself.'"
I'll skip to the end of the speech. Save some time.
"I spent too much time celebrating this very moment and place - once the future we dreamed of so long ago. This is it. We're here. How the heck did we do it?"
"A neighbor of mine, I hired him-he was a handyman-to build an 'L' on my house where I could write. He did the whole damn thing - he built the foundation, and then the side walls and the roof. And when it was all done, he stood back and he said, 'How the hell did I ever do that?' How the hell did we ever do this? We did it! And if this isn't nice, what is?"
"I got a letter from a sappy woman a while back - she knew I was sappy too, which is to say a lifelong Democrat. She was pregnant, and she wanted to know if I thought it was a mistake to bring a little baby into a world as troubled as this one is. And I replied, what made being alive almost worthwhile for me was the saints I met. They could be almost anywhere. By saints I meant people who behaved decently and honorably in societies which were so often obscene. Own our society is very frequently obscene. Perhaps many of us here, regardless of our ages or power or wealth, can be saints for her children to meet."
"There was one thing I forgot to say, and I promised I would say, and that is 'We love you. We really do.'"