My Commencement Speech

To the class of 2011

Thank you for the opportunity to address the graduating class of 2011. It is a privilege to be the guest speaker after having spent so many years sitting in the audiences of my own children’s graduations. Every parent is proud of the accomplishments of their children, but every parent is also a citizen with an eye to the future entrusted to the next generation, hopeful for good citizens, good leadership.

I have listened to dozens of these addresses over the years, not only my own children’s graduations but the graduations of friends and family, all eager to witness their seedlings grow into the sprouted and rooted plantings we dream of when preparing them for the future.

Generally the message at these events is basic in a variety of forms and styles: begin with an anecdote, a joke, the best a personal remembrance, follow with the charge which is either change the world or be good human beings in consonance with other human beings, world peace, etc. I am most partial to the change the world scripts.

Graduates of 2011, you probably won’t change the world much. Forget that Margaret Mead quote, it’s prosaic and will one day be disheartening. My generation thought we would change the world too. Save yourselves. Do something honest, gather up a nest egg of money and don’t let the news depress you. All the expressly powerful and most of the famous are nincompoops. Do not pay any attention to them, don’t pay any attention to them at all.

If you must distinguish yourself, become a good criminal. An old school criminal. The criminals nowadays are generally faceless, nameless, and now untraceable.

Our elections are in the pockets of the secret donors who have planned their future security around the takeover of our beloved political process through privately financed groups, mystery backers — generally the corporations motivated by power and profits and idiot self preservationist fringe philosophies — protected by tax-code provisions that do not require disclosure of donors. Now that our Supreme Court has opened the door to the unabashed manipulation of the democracy through anonymous — that is, secret – funding, our crooks are mostly hidden. That is where we have arrived in our noble country: welcome to your future.

Class of 2011, save yourselves. I want to make a case for a return to honest crime. The kind of crime I grew up with. Now those guys were criminals. They smoked cigars and they insulated themselves with payoffs and graft and they barely bothered to hide it. They enjoyed their work.

Smuggle goods over the borders, intimidate business persons to buy your protection, surround yourself with strong, secure, ruthless people. Protect your community from a store front that serves great espresso, do favors for people for favors in return. Create a parallel world where your word rules. Never forget a good turn or don’t miss the opportunities for revenge. Be a good criminal. Let people know what you stand for. Do it publicly and without guile. Smoke a cigar now and again.

Infiltrate honestly. Be a citizen and make the expressed and unexpressed powers answer to you. Don’t let the politicians become so important. They’re the phoniest of all, cowards too fragile to value truth over re-election. Don’t respect their secrecy.

Most of your friends will be corporate cogs. Not you. Let the corporations know you are not afraid of them. Speak truth to power, as we used to say. Be bold. Reclaim optimism through crime. It will be a great gift.

If you can’t be a crook, be a writer. There’s so much inspiration these days as our culture has slid into irrelevance, consumerism, greed, and cyncisim. Everyone is so ridiculous you won’t have to make up a thing.

Thank you, and congratulations to the class of 2011.

jsg, usa