“My uncle ordered popovers from the restaurant’s bill of fare. And, when they were served, he regarded them with a penetrating stare. Then he spoke great Words of Wisdom as he sat there on that chair: ‘To eat these things,’ said my uncle, ‘you must exercise great care. You may swallow down what’s solid BUT you must spit out the air! And as you partake of the world’s bill of fare, that’s darned good advice to follow. Do a lot of spitting out the hot air. And be careful what you swallow.’”
This was the graduation speech, in its entirety, spoken by Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) to Lake Forest College in June 1977. I love this speech for many reasons. It’s creative, insightful, funny, and heartwarming. Of all these things, though, I also marvel at how it can be all those things in less than a hundred words.
Those who read my column regularly or have talked to me in person know I am not one who has trouble finding words. In fact, my biggest problem to this day is getting to the point. Why? It’s because I love the power of words. We have so many different ways of describing the many subtle, yet significantly different thoughts, ideas, and emotions any situation can drum up.
For instance, are you mad? No seriously, think about the last time someone really got under your skin. Your professor knocked twenty points off your last paper because you left it back in your dorm room and couldn’t turn it in at the beginning of class. Your significant other blew off plans with you for the third night in a row to go out with their friends. Your parents are having a meltdown because you have absolutely no idea what you want to major in and you’re about to become a fifth year Senior. Whatever the case may be… Or are you furious? Are you enraged at your professor? Are you fuming at your significant other? Are your parents infuriating you? Or are you not mad but instead miffed? Maybe anger isn’t even the appropriate emotion, now that you think about it. You are definitely annoyed with all three situations, but you are more upset about your professor totally screwing up your GPA than perturbed with your parents’ constant nagging about the future. At this point, you’re just peeved your beau isn’t being conscientious of all these raging emotions going on inside of you to just cancel their plans and stay the night with you. You wouldn’t necessarily call it puzzling, but it can all become problematic. If anything, life and all things considered is officially complicated.
“Cacophony—a harsh discordant mixture of sounds.” It is my favorite word in the English language, not only because it’s so cathartic to say out loud, but it’s a word that sounds like what it means. When I see the word “cacophony,” I imagine a trash can being knocked around, their lids falling to the ground, and an alley way once silent becoming now filled with a clamor of sounds. I find it all so poetic.
My love of words and search to find the exact set for the precise setting has always been at the heart of this column. Whenever I have a topic in mind, whether it’s about something serious or just me professing my love for Fox Day, it takes me a good while to find, what I feel, is the most appropriate quote to headline the piece. But the search is one of the best parts about writing this column. It’s like finally finding the right puzzle piece that goes right into that empty spot and helps in completing the whole work.
With the valedictorians for the Class of 2014 having just been revealed, I wanted to write something that I hope resonates with them, as well as you all. As you know, they will be the ones to give the ever important graduation speeches this May. I personally object to not having a single speaker spot open to a member of the senior class who may be a better orator than they are at getting a 4.0.
Yet, as I don’t foresee tradition changing anytime soon, I do implore those who are set to write the parting words for our class to be conscientious. Who can say what the best graduation speech is? There is no perfect word length, correct combination of similes and metaphors, nor can you adequately quantify the right amount of references to “P. Dunc,” “Miss. Mae,” and “Roxy” that will truly resonate with your extensive audience. All you can do is speak from your heart and try your best to say something millions of other graduating senior speakers haven’t already said over the last four thousand years. But no pressure. Because it’s your voice, and only your voice, that will silence the cacophony of naysayers that stand before you. And that goes for all of us anxiously waiting to grab those diplomas in roughly thirty days.
The opinions on this page do not necessarily reflect those of The Sandspur, its staff or Rollins College.