We got to Rowan University in the buccholic semi-rural South Jersey early in the afternoon
Here's the hall when we got there -- about to be filled with incipient scholars, yearning for knowledge.
We went back to the copious green room and spent an hour or so talking to various faculty members and people from Rowans administration. They did a great job of making me feel like a celebrity. They also presented me with a "Buncie", which I haven't photographed.
Here I am after getting my robes:
And after I got all robed up:
All around were these things that said "Mr. Cassidy" like on chairs reserved for me and stuff. Weird! I felt like a VIP!
Let me be among the first to congratulate you all for having made it here. When you walk out of here this evening, those of you who aren't already, will be adults. This is your last chance to eat candy with impunity, as your doctor, I advise that you take this final opportunity to behave like children. Tomorrow you'll be expected to make adult decisions – get your own books, clean your own toilet, buy your own food, put the lid back on your own toothpaste, and do your own laundry. Leave your parents alone, for crying out loud. They deserve a little time to themselves.
Everyone up on stage looks a little nervous -- that's because they have no idea what I'm going to say. Which is fine, because I have no idea what I'm going to say. But I'll start with a personal anicdote ....
Have you ever shot at explosives with a machine gun? I have. It was two years ago, almost to the day. I was driving across the country, photographing people who owned guns for what I thought would be a very clever book, and someone asked me that very question. “Kyle, have you ever shot at explosives with a machine gun?” And I had to say that I had not. But I was fascinated by the possibility that we live in a world where such things can be done.
Twelve hours later, I found myself in a box canyon in central Kentucky, holding a machine gun and stairing at a dozen containers of explosives a hundred yards away and I thought to myself “How did I ever end up in this very remarkable situation?”
And that's kind of what I'm feeling right now. How did I end up in this very remarkable situation.
When they first asked me to come and say a few words of advice, I wasn't sure if I had any worth saying. (I'm a little more concerned now that I see it's listed as “a highlight of the afternoon.)
Anyway, I went for a walk and found myself in front of the former home of the former Charles Epting Vansant. It's not a great accomplishment, it's only three blocks from my house.
On July 1, 1916, Charles Epting Vansant a 25 year old Wharton student had the dubious honor of being the first of five people to get themselves eaten by a shark off the coast of the Jersey shore over the period of a dozen days.
What are the odds of getting eaten by a shark? It's like the odds of winning a Nobel prize. And I started thinking “How would one, were one so inclined, go about getting eaten by a shark?”
You are about to discover, and I'll save you some head scratching here, that no idea of Academic inquiry, however rediculous it seems, is without possibility of reward or practical application. If it's really absurd, you'll get on TV a lot, because everybody likes to think that smart people aren't as smart as them.
Well, the one thing that Charles Epting Vansant did that lead to his getting eaten by that shark was to go in the water. By doing that, he increased his chances from “impossible” to “possible”. And that's what you're doing here – increasing your chances. Not of being eaten by a shark, but of doing wonderful things.
You may never again be exposed to so many creative and talented people.
Your professors, are swell folks. Well, some of them are. I can't vouch for them all. But half of what you learn isn't going to be from them. It's going to be from your peers. And you're going to learn it at parties, and poetry readings, and at lunch tables, sitting under trees, and driving around in cars.
I promise you this: Sometime between today and the day they hand you your diploma, you're going to be sitting on a sofa, or standing in a kitchen, at a party – probably in the Crossings – with a red plastic cup of beer that you are too young to realize is so watery and weak that it shouldn't be drunk, and someone standing next to you is going to say something, or they're going to give you a book, or they're going to tell you about a person that you've never heard of, or a musician that you've never listened to, or a country that you've never visited -- and it's going to change your life.
While you're here, every day is an opportunity, use them. Write poetry, produce little magazines, learn to juggle, build improbable bridges out of trash, hack iPods, sing songs, take a semester abroad. Investigate politics that outrage your parents. Read biographies. Register to vote. PRODUCE culture, don't just CONSUME culture.
Every day that you're here, and every moment that you're here – ask yourself “Am I in the water?” because if you're not your wasting your time.
When you were children, for many of you that was yesterday, it was your parents responsibility to make your dreams come true, now it's yours. If your dream is to be published by the New Yorker, there better be a story of yours on some editors desk.
So it turns out that maybe I do have some advice for you.
Work hard. Believe in yourself. Enable your dreams. Seek out creative people. Hang on. Tenaciously. Always be a force for good.
(Feel free to repost the speech if you think it's useful.)
there's video that might go up tomorrow.