Associate Professor of Psychology
9:30 a.m., May 18, 2008
It's an honor to be here. Obviously, maybe you know, I was voted to be here. The seniors voted because they can spot a person of high moral character, and the rest of you voted for me. I appreciate that. I remember the first time that I ever stepped foot on Grinnell campus, it was for my interview three years ago. I have been here for three years. I'd been living in Chicago for 15 years. I left my loft in downtown Chicago, just a couple of blocks away from the Sears tower, hopped in my car, and drove 300 miles through cornfields. And I said, "Crap. Do I have corn flakes for brains?" I mean, I am from Kansas, but I spent a decade and a half trying to wash my hands of that dirt, you know. I was trying to become sophisticated, you know, a Chicago kid. Everybody said, "Oh, Grinnell. Sure, it's in the middle of nowhere, but it's an oasis, an intellectual oasis." So I imagined Grinnell filled with the Gilmore girls, everybody making offhand and witty remarks, this rapid banter. All right, I could deal with this.
I pulled off Highway 80, it was about 11 o'clock at night, and I was looking for a place to eat, you know how this goes. And I walked into Rabbitt's. For those that don't know: a little less "Gilmore Girls" and a little bit more "Larry the Cable Guy." But I left there, walked through town over to campus, and somebody was playing the guitar over at the Forum when that was still the thing to do, and somebody was playing Bob Dylan. Thank you, Spencer. "Tangled Up in Blue," good tune. And I walked over and I introduced myself, and the guy was a senior. The guy was a double major in German and in Psychology, he said. He wasn't bragging -- I kind of had to pull it out of him -- but he played the oboe, too, and he spent the last year in an African village helping out. He was working on a publication, doing research right there. When he finished graduation, he was going to spend two years at inner-city schools, Teaching for America. He used the word "ubiquitous" and his shoe in the same sentence. When he finally paused, you know, I kind of scratched my chin and I said, "git'r done."
And that is what you guys do, you git'r done. Seniors here, I could not be more impressed by your global thinking, your curiosity, but also your hard work. And I mean, we are not talking, "Oh, I gotta test, I've got some hard work to do." No, this is nose-to-the-grindstone, Red Bull-infused hard work, to a fault. I mean literally, and some of you are here today, and some of you are not here today because you are passed out somewhere else. But you have pushed yourself over the brink like marathon runners, and have crumpled -- in my office. As a group you are work-a-holics, by which I mean, you work.
It needs to be talked about; you guys party like I've never seen. Ever. Ever. And it's not just your get-togethers in well-lit rooms where everyone listens to Michael Buble records. These are well-orchestrated, these are intense parties, with themes. I've been keeping track of this stuff for three years. And there's a few of them. You know it is like every once in a while you throw a party. (Pulls out a long list.) There's your regulation kind of off-the-rack festivities that you wouldn't be too embarrassed if the parents know about. Oh, I should say, parents, I am not talking about your kids. Your kids are at home in their dorm rooms writing songs, poetry maybe, learning the banjo, maybe playing Guitar Hero III, perhaps. The kids of the parents sitting kind of next to you: they're partying. For example the Hollywood party, Disco, the Waltz, 10/10, the mustache party -- always intriguing -- the Rock Star Ball, the Block party, it could go on and on. And then there are the more intriguing ones that I should not be talking about in this room. Red Light/Green Light, drag extravaganzas, Mary Be James, the Underwear Ball, and the one that I am the most intrigued about, I don't know if you guys are, but the 100 days party. Parents, about 100 days ago, your well-behaved senior, how do I put this? Let me put it this way. (music plays) Dionysus, the god of wine and whoopie, if he learned about this, he would take a step back, and shake his head and go, "Really?"
My point is that you guys work hard and you play hard, and most of you seem to know where that line exists. In these speeches you are supposed to give some advice, people gave advice. I am just up here the dog and pony show. Really, the only advice I have is: that line shifts, it's nebulous. You have to keep an eye on it at all times. If you fall too far on one side, the work side or the play side, life's not going to be very good, so be careful. Be careful with that, but you know that. That's why this is difficult to do, you know that. So really the only piece of advice I have. and it is a piece of advice you have heard 1000 times, is find a job that you would love to do even if no one paid you to do it, kind of like my job. Don't take my job. I get paid six bucks an hour, I appreciate that. But if you do, if you find that job, if you land that job, I can guarantee you two things. Seriously, 1) you will have an enriching life and 2) you will need a supplemental job. Food, dental, you'll need to pay for that kind of crap. How you find that job, I have no idea.
What I really do want to say is that I've taught -- I am done here by the way. This is my last day, so like you seniors, I do not know if you can say it like I can say it, I have been here for, not a long time, but a good time. This is a great place, fantastic place. I've taught at several small universities filled with ambitious, academically motivated students like yourself, and the large state colleges and universities where really, if you drive through campus with your windows down they'll throw a diploma in your car. Parents are going, "why did I spend all that money?" No matter the size of the place I've been, no matter the quality, I can honestly say I have never meet a group of students as interesting as you. I am honored to call a lot of you friends. You think globally, you are curious, you are hard working, you are what, as my grandfather would say, you're good people. And why is that? It's because you are you, and your parents, your parents have been working above radar and below radar for a couple of decades. Give them a hug every once in a while, they definitely deserve it. I should not say this but this is what parents put up with. On my drive here with my wife and my one year old, at the Brooklyn exit, about 10-15 miles from here, he threw up a gallon all over himself. I'm never going to let him forget that. Your parents probably let you forget that.
So you've done pretty well thus far. All I can say is, like Bob Dylan sang in "Tangled Up in Blue," just keep on keepin' on. It's been an honor. Thank you.