Commencement Speech

This is a challenge and an invite from Jane, and although I haven’t yet graduated from college, I have graduated from high school. So I have a little bit of experience. I also attended my brother’s graduation and watched the video of Rahm Emanuel give the speech for the graduates of 2009 at Sarah Lawrence College. But what would I want someone to tell me, to tell my peers? I think I’ll give it a try, see what happens.

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It’s graduation day. How are you all feeling? Hot, I bet, in those gowns. You had to pay for them, too, right? I bet you wish they’d made them a bit more comfortable. Plus, those hats can’t be fitting very well.

But hey, it’s graduation day! This means any number of things – your exams are finished, your last papers are in, your theses are written and sitting in the professor’s files. You’re all probably feeling a little nostalgic too – thinking about how soon you’ll be walking down the halls for the last time, and looking into classrooms for the last time, and eating at the dining hall for the last time, and accidentally opening the door when someone’s in there in that bathroom on the third floor that never locks. And no one ever fixes it. Maybe when you come back for your reunion in ten years, you’ll go check if that bathroom lock’s been fixed. Maybe you’ll feel happy if it is, maybe disappointed. Maybe even shocked.

Things will change. These halls will change, new flowers will be planted in the quad, a new building will be built. But more importantly, you will change. I can bet you anything that if you come down here in five years, maybe even three, maybe even in two months – you’ll be looking at it all with different eyes. Because no matter what you think right at the moment – no matter how many promises you’ve made – no matter how many resolutions – things will change.

I’m probably scaring you. You think I’m saying that you’ll lose who you are. You think I’m telling you that your dreams will go to pieces. But I’m not, not really. I just want to reassure you that it’s okay if your dreams change. It’s okay if the person you are today isn’t who you are in ten years, because even if that’s so, you’ll always remember yourselves as you are today.

It’s a big, scary world out there. But don’t think that you need to change to fit into it. If you change – like you changed majors last year, or girlfriends, or favorite writers – then it’ll be for you, for your own reasons, and you probably won’t notice it happening. But don’t let that world, the one seems larger than life and scarier than Freddy Krueger right now, don’t let it tear you down. Use it. Use your fear of it to get where you want to go. Use the things you’ve learned and the skills you’ve mastered guide you, and let your instinct tell you when you need some help, too.

Now, I bet you all want to go hug your friends and your families. Maybe you’ve got a party later on, or night in, packing up. Just remember that today is about you, and what you’ve achieved. Go take off those gowns that mark you so clearly as “COLLEGE GRADUATE” and let the rest of you come out into the open and breathe a sigh of relief that this speech is over.

3. Heather

Heather stood in front of the glass door, arms wrapped around herself. She closed her eyes and leaned her cheek against the glass, which was cold despite the heat inside the shop. She shivered, the chill in her cheek spreading within moments to the rest of her body through her bloodstream. She jerked away from the door, and turned back to the warmth inside.

Miranda was still sitting at the table at the very end of what looked less like a shop and more like a deep and narrow closet. The entire shop was just a bit wider than the door leading into it, and both walls were lined with racks. The racks were filled completely with clothing inside plastic bags, to keep them all separated, clean and neat. Miranda, who was ancient, dumpy, tiny, and brought to mind things like tin cans full of a animal crackers and yellowing newspapers, had owned the shop for the past fifty years and didn’t seem to be thinking of leaving it any time soon. The biggest and only change she’d made to it in years was hiring Heather, because one of her eyes had gone blind and the doctors had forbidden her to keep sewing and straining her eyes. She didn’t listen to them, of course, but instead merely hired some help so that she’d only have to sew about half as much as she’d had to before.

Heather sat across from Miranda at the rickety old table at the end of the shop and rested her elbows carefully on it, making sure not to move the dress that was half stuck in the sewing machine in front of her. She felt stiff. That damn tear in the evening dress had been plaguing her for the past hour, as she tried to sew the old and thin fabric back together perfectly. Miranda prided herself on the miracles she performed, mending any type of clothing and never saying no to a job, and she made sure that Heather was capable of doing the same when she’d hired her to help out.

Miranda worked odd hours. Her shop was open from late afternoon until late at night, so Heather got to sleep in every morning. But some nights, like tonight, she really craved a good, strong cup of coffee. Miranda forbade her from bringing coffee into the shop, though, claiming that the smell made her gag. Heather considered trying to bring a travel-mug of coffee and tell her employer it was tea and see if she’d actually notice the smell. Maybe tomorrow.

Miranda lifted her head from her work and gave Heather a piercing glance. Heather smiled reassuringly and bent back over the dress. It was going to be a long evening yet for her.

The Countess

The Countess sat stiffly upon her throne-like chair. Her face was unreadable, except for the eyes. Those eyes were like endless black tunnels, drowning whoever dared look into them – the iris’s were such a dark brown that they seemed black, and it was difficult to tell the difference between them and the pupils. The Countess’s skin was a smooth, deep shade of bronze, perfect and without blemish. Her face, although expressionless, was built of contrasts: her eyebrows were a shade too thick for fashion, but were arched strongly and proudly above those cold eyes; her mouth was wide, her lips full, though her nose could almost have been seen as hawk-like on a less imposing woman; her cheekbones were high and sharp, though her chin was more rounded. The Countess’s hair was a tumble of ebony curls, pinned in an elegant knot at the back of her head and covered in a sheer veil.

The Countess was resplendent in a black gown, cut low to bear more of her smooth skin and to accent her long, slender neck and full bosom. Although black, the gown shimmered with a hundred points of light that came from the tiny crystal beads that were sewn into it, making the Countess glimmer and blind those who stood before her with every shift of the cloth, as those beads sparkled in the light coming through the tall windows.

The Countess was feared through-out several lands, and respected and feared in her own. She knew this. She used her power. She wrote laws, built bridges, waged war and made peace, all while sitting stiffly on her hard, wooden chair, gilded in gold paint that was never allowed to chip. Her power seemed limitless to those who were in awe of her, and unnaturally so to those who feared her. The Countess alone knew, and pondered, that a day would come when her stiffness would give way to fatigue and her convictions would shatter in the face of weariness. She alone knew that she would not last forever. But until the rest of them realized it, she would never, ever, let it be known that she knew it.