- Now listen,
it’s not fair,
but please don’t be embittered by this fact.
Now without having done a lick of work,
without having spent any time in class,
without once walking into that library
in order to have anything to do
with the graduating class of Harvard,
it’s faculty or it’s a distinguished alumni,
I make a good living playing someone who did.
It’s the way of the world kids.
of all of us who studied for two years
at Chabot Community College in Hayward, California,
two semesters at California State University, Sacramento,
and for 45 years at the School of Hard Knocks
earning a bachelor of arts degree
in one damn thing after another,
I do not, thank you.
I don’t know much about Latin.
I have no real passion for enzymes
and public global policy is something I scan
in the newspaper just before I do the wordle,
and yet here I am closing.
Closing for Josiah, Pallas, and Vic.
Thank you guys.
Some of us here can recite by repetition the preamble
to a television show we might have seen five days a week
about a strange being from another planet
with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men,
Superman, who disguised as a mild mannered reporter
for a great metropolitan newspaper,
there were many metropolitan newspapers once,
and some of them were great,
who could change the course
of mighty rivers and bend steel with his bare hands.
He was faster than a speeding bullet
and he was more powerful than a locomotive
and he was able to leap tall buildings at a single bound
and those are very, very impressive superpowers.
No, well, what was most impressive
about his powers was how he chose to wield them.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Cats were saved from trees,
evil doers were banished
to the phantom zone and the innocent were rescued
with reliable and assuring regularity.
But in those half hours, which have since grown
to many full length films and multiverses
and God, you kids see them all,
was the ongoing struggle
for not just the protection and safety of the world,
but to the exposing of crooks
and their lies to the light of day.
Superman, you see, and his proxies of Wonder Woman
and Captain America and Black Panther and the Black Widow
and the Fantastic Four, my God, there’s a million of them.
They are all enmeshed in that never ending battle
for truth, justice and the American Way
and in such a struggle being a Superman is a plus,
even with his one lethal weakness exposure
to chunks of the wreckage
of his home planet destroyed by its own hubris and apathy.
But hey, there ain’t no Superman
nor anyone else in his Justice League.
There’s just us on this planet.
Now, on occasions such as this,
beware of certain orders
who resort to using sage quotations from historical figures
or the words of legends of literature
and arts or the name dropping of famous friends,
as a claim to some kind of wisdom or super ability.
Some people standing
at this podium shouldn’t be considered much more
than lucky sots who are in the right place at the right time
with the right goods and the right attitude
or as a man named Marlon Brando once said to me,
Vic, would you pick up that name I just dropped.
Marlon Brando, would you hold onto it till we’re done?
Give it back to me at the end.
I’m gonna need it back.
Yes, as a man named Marlon Brando once said
to me on a message
he left in my telephone answering machine,
“Tommy, Tommy Hankerchief.
This is Marlon Branflakes calling you to ask where you are.”
Then later, he told me
that when he was a young man and registered for the draft,
he filled out the form for his name and age,
but when it came to his race, he wrote human.
“For Tommy, Tommy, what are we,
all, but human?
Yeah, we are all, but human
Now as an armchair historian
who reads non-fiction for pleasure,
the books divine
that there has never been a graduating class
that has not faced the greatest challenges of all time.
That come every spring
the maelstrom of history swirl so wildly
that no matter the year or the era or the generation,
there is always an atmospheric river
of events that makes right now
the hinge upon which our fate is turning.
And we here in the stands look
at you all in the caps and the gowns and we hope,
“Oh, at last, help is on the way.”
Somewhere matriculating today
is a man of iron,
a woman of steel
a superhuman just in the nick of time.
Now this is not because we have failed
in our duties or are completely spent.
We have done some very super things over our generations.
It’s because we are all in a cage match,
mixed martial arts battle royale
with agents of hubris, apathy,
intolerance, and braying incompetence,
the malevolent equals to imperial storm troopers,
Lex Luthor and Loki,
and we could all use a superhero right now.
Now looking out at the flowing colors of Harvard yard,
the goofy big hands that clap,
the balls that represent the world on which we live,
the streamers in the piatas and someone’s very
big face rendered large out there amongst.
There she is.
We see beings who are young
and restless with energy and imagination,
with righteousness and enlightenment and joy and compassion
and we celebrate your proclaimed wisdom
and your work ethic.
We know no one is faster than a speeding bullet.
To our shame, every day, to our shame.
But we can still summon more power than a locomotive
and we are able to leap tall buildings at a single bound,
if we have the right gizmo.
We can change the course
of mighty rivers if such a thing should be done
and we make machines that bend steel as easily
as using our bare hands and we know that to each other,
we often seem like strange beings
from another planet in habits and tastes
and languages with holidays and foods we eat
and names of the days of the week, all varying.
We all have special powers
and abilities far beyond the reach of other mortals.
Some of us can repair a screen door with ease.
Some of us can take care of a five year old kid
and a toddler for 24 hours a day and never stop loving them.
Some of us make sense
of physics and economics
and global policy.
Some of us survive somehow on minimum earnings.
Some of us graduate from colleges
by years of lockdowns in Zooms.
Now these achievements are all stellar,
even though, yes, we are all but human.
Still, we’d like to look up in the sky and see not a bird,
not a plane, but well, someone who is young and strong
and super who will fight the never ending battle for truth,
for justice and for the American way.
Someone who will take on that work.
Now, all right.
Now, a kooky uncle once said to me,
“We should all stay in school as long
as we can because the moment we graduate,
we have to work every day for the rest of our lives.”
Now that uncle
was a bit bitter,
but he was not wrong.
We all get to complain about the man
and we all have debts we gotta pay
and we’re all entitled to a day off to lay about.
But the work that is called for that we must do
has no expiration date.
It is the construction of our more perfect union
and that job will never ever be completed.
It’s one that requires rigorous attention,
unfading wherewithal and all hands.
The work is the keeping of the promises
of our promised land, the practice of decency,
the protection of freedom
and the promotion of liberty for all with no exceptions.
And man, that takes on a lot of work.
It’s work that is done on multiple job sites
every single day
and you can call each of them the battle for truth,
justice and the American way.
Yes, the American way.
The American way is exampled in both plain sight
and in subtle attitudes,
in moments of routine exchange and in broad expectations.
It’s in places of historic weight and import
and in the small spaces in which we all stand,
the American way could be exampled
when you respect the law and the rights of all?
Because if you don’t, who will?
When your food is brought to you, when you thank the server.
Because if you don’t, who will?
When you pick up the litter
that has missed the recycling bin?
Because if you don’t, who will?
When you vote your conscience
and make sure your neighbor has the opportunity
to do the same with theirs.
Because if you don’t, who will?
When you make good on your victories
and learn from your losses
because both are the results of proud and noble efforts.
If you don’t, who will?
The American way was first proposed not far from here
when subjects of a king demanded more control
over their lives than that dictated
by someone else’s definition of providence.
At the same time, women had no legal recourses.
An entire segment of the population had been taken
from their homeland and slaved to work as chattel regardless
of their age and the original inhabitants of this continent
from sea to shining sea,
the only ones who carried the DNA of America,
were considered subhuman.
Yet even with such paradox was written down
the how to establish justice,
ensure domestic tranquility,
provide for the common defense,
promote the general welfare
and secure those blessings of liberty
for ourselves and our posterity no matter,
as time and conflict and the institutions
of our democracy would determine,
our gender, our race
our creed, our color, our chosen deities or who we love,
for it is our manifest destiny to pursue our own happiness.
All of us, no exceptions, are entitled
to the inalienable rights of liberty and freedom
because we live in the United States of America.
The vocabulary of the American way,
of the law and the rights we share
is some part philosophical, amusing,
some part answering a question with a question
some part trying to bull us all over
with your knowledge of Latin.
Some part answering the question with a question
and the rest is all practical.
It’s even physical and it’s certainly tangible.
It’s the language of telling the truth.
What is truth again in Latin?
The language of telling the truth.
It is in the vision quest
for truth that we look to you newly incorporated members
of the Justice League of Avengers to come to the rescue,
for the truth to some is no longer empirical.
It’s no longer based on data,
nor common sense, nor even common decency.
Telling the truth is no longer the benchmark
for public service.
It’s no longer the salve
to our fears or the guide to our actions.
Truth is now considered malleable by opinion
and by zero sum endgames,
imagery is manufactured with audacity,
with purpose to achieve the primal task of marring the truth
with mock logic to achieve
with fake expertise,
with false sincerity, with phrases like I’m just saying,
oh, well, I’m just asking.
I’m just wondering.
Now, literally you cannot believe your eyes
and your ears will help others lie to you.
Someone will report the world to you exactly as you wish
it were full of alternative facts,
of conjured narrative meant to buttress the status quo
and deny its offenses
or rejig the rules and muddy the playing field,
depending on where one is on the food chain
and the moral spectrum.
The American way can be demonstrated
without ceasing as a perpetual prayer
by every big shot in any plain Jane or Joe Blow.
Justice can be an everyday pursuit,
case by case with both lightning speed
and the slow inevitable effect of gravity.
Truth though, oh,
truth feeds up in the high country,
as elusive as serenity,
yet as certain
as the north star and the southern cross.
Truth is mined at the intersections of our chosen behaviors
and our fixed habits in our personal boundaries.
Truth has synonyms such as honesty, honor, transparency,
and yet the common practice of so many is to play fast
and loose with those very words
to create enemies,
to claim victimhood, to raise the mediocre into merit
and to make cloudy a vista that is actually crystal clear.
Likewise, truth has opposites.
You don’t need to know that.
That’s not the real story, this is.
Opinion masquerading as clairvoyance,
oh, here’s what is gonna happen.
And influence pedaling.
A lot of people are saying.
has a nemesis equal to any colored kryptonite.
That, lack of feral hound, is never too far
off the path in the weeds and in the shadows,
lying in wait for the lethal opportunity
to bring truth down
and that beast is indifference,
which will make moot all the permanence found in truth.
Indifference will rust away the promise
of our promised land.
Propaganda and boldface lies
will erode over time.
Idolatry and imagery lose luster and effect,
ignorance and intolerance can be replaced
by experience in the wink of an eye
but indifference will narrow the vision of America’s people
and make dim the light of Lady Liberty’s symbolic torch.
Indifference make citizens
into indentured servants held in labor by the despots
and tyrants whose default setting is cynicism,
who outlaw dissent and ban art and dialogue
Who grab power any way they can.
Enabled by the subterfuge of their co-conspirators,
rewarding their rationale
of the complicit and surging
into the vacuum caused by the indifference
of a people who have been made weary by struggle,
so weary that they lose hope and are left to yearn
to be saved by the fiction of superheroes.
Every day, every year,
and for every graduating class,
there is a choice to be made.
It’s the same option
for all grownups who have to decide to be one
of three types of Americans, those who embrace liberty,
and freedom for all,
those who won’t,
or those who are indifferent.
Only the first do the work
of creating a more perfect union and nation indivisible.
The others get in the way.
In the never ending battle,
you have all officially joined as of today,
the difference is in how truly you believe
and in how vociferously you promote
and how tightly you hold to the truth that is self-evident.
That of course we are all created equally, yet differently.
And of course we are all in this together.
If we do the work,
justice and the American way are within our grasp,
no matter our gender, our faith,
our heritage or genetic makeup,
the shade and hue
of our flesh or the continental birthplace of our ancestors.
Why is that truth so hard for some to accept,
much less respect?
If you live in the United States of America,
the responsibility is yours, ours.
The effort is optional,
but the truth,
the truth is sacred,
unalterable, chiseled into the stone
of the foundation of our republic.
All of us are able,
none of us are super.
We are the Americans.
Liberty and justice is for us all
because yes, we have specific names
and we have lived every year
of our ages, but when it comes to race,
we are all uniquely magnificently,
or so said
Marlon Brando to Tommy Tommy Hankerchief.
May goodness and mercy follow you all the days,
all the days of your lives.