Posts Tagged ‘commencement address’

oz gate guard

The 2018 Commencement Address at Emerald University

It is with dubious distinction that I stand here before the Emerald University Class of 2018. I say dubious because last year’s commencement speaker, the Wicked Witch of the West, and the recipient of an honorary doctorate, was stripped of her honorary degree because she ran afoul by misusing her power.  I found it a bit disingenuous that while the university took back her honorary doctorate, they did not return a single penny of the mega bucks she donated to said same university.

In that regard I have  nothing to fear because I have no intention of donating a single Oz buck to this university.

I stand before you a humble man. I say this in gest because I am not the least bit humble. I take pride in being proud. I don’t intend to fill the already hot air with worthless platitudes. Rather, I want to talk to you honestly in a straight-forward manner.

As you all know, or as you all should know, the Wizard of Oz was nothing but a humbug. A man who invented false news. No sooner had he landed in Oz, he began building the walled city of Oz.  And because he was so intent on keeping out what he called the un-documented, aka the “Undudes,” he hired me to stand guard at the only entry point to the Emerald City.

For years I turned back more people than you can imagine. And then I began to wonder what filled the poet, Robert Frost’s’ mind when he wrote  “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out.”

Before I lapse into a political polemic about walls, I want to steer the conversation in a different direction. I want to talk about the wall that separates the splendid garden of learning and the world you will be stepping into after you cross the stage with your diploma in hand.

When Dorothy and her three friends, and Toto, too, stopped by at the gate to Emerald City, you’ll recall that they rang the bell. When I answered the door I confused the matter by telling them the bell was out of order and that they should have knocked on the door as directed by the sign that wasn’t there.

I had no intention of letting them in to see the Wizard until Dorothy told me she was sent by the Good Witch and as proof she showed me the slippers she was wearing.  I had no choice but to let her in.

You are like Dorothy and her traveling companions. You not only knock on the door because you were instructed by a legion of  Good Witches. You have been instructed by dozens of men and woman who were eager to share their learning with you. And not only were these people you called “professors,” your Good Witches, first among your Good Witches were your parents, family, mentors, community and friends.

Today you stand before the grantors of degrees wearing metaphorical ruby slippers, a symbol of your status as a college graduate. You stand knocking on the door and I say “welcome.”  I would also like to suggest that you don’t go looking for the Wizard of Oz, because as I said earlier, he is a humbug.  I also suggest that while your entry-level job was your four-year goal, don’t think of your career as your final destination because I am here to tell you that as you cross over the portal into the “real world,” you are about to step foot on another long and winding yellow brick road.

Make sure you take your yellow brick road and not someone else’s because if you do your life will never be as full as it should have been if you follow your own yellow brick road.

Follow it, follow it, follow it, and when you do come to one of the many crossroads on the yellow brick road that you will undoubtedly encounter, listen to your head, heed your heart and have the courage to make a decision.

I officially open the door to Oz for you.  Welcome. Enjoy the journey of your life time!


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The annual commencement speech at the University of Oz was delivered by the Wicked Witch of the West, her sister unable to attend the ceremony because she was bogged down with housework.

Good afternoon graduates. While it is customary to be warmly embraced by your commencement speaker, it is not in my purview to offer you hollow plaudits and pleasant platitudes. I will not coddle you, I will not play nice-nice with you, and I will most definitely not bull shit you.  You have a legitimate reason to celebrate because you did finish what you started out to do when you graduated from high school. That’s more than the close to 50% of college bound students can say who didn’t pass the finish line. But don’t get a swelled head. Across the fruited plains of America two million undergraduate degrees are being awarded.  Mathematically that means you are not even one in a million.

Economic statisticians love to point out that college graduates have a much higher life-time earning potential than non-graduates. Big deal. So you spent about $200,000 to get where you are today.  It will take you a decade to break even with your non-graduate contemporaries’ earnings. Imagine what you could have done with that $200,000.  Instead of earning 15 credits studying abroad for a semester, you could have actually lived abroad for four years and come away with a lifetime of valuable experiences.  You could have invested your $200,000 and bought a nice car with the interest.

But for the moment let’s forget about earning potential and let’s focus on what happened to you after four years on the Yellow Brick Road. What did you really learn? What did you really learn here in these hallowed halls and rolling hills that you couldn’t have learned somewhere else? How many hours did you spend in class and working on papers and projects that were wasted hours?  If your four years of college were an orange, how much juice would you have actually squeezed out?

If we were to be really honest you would know that it wasn’t the courses you took in college that made all the difference, but it was the course you set to navigate the waters of higher education. If you didn’t set a course, all the credit courses you took were for naught. But don’t think for a moment that your course had to be a rigid one because many a boat has been dashed upon the rocks because the navigator failed to trim the sails or let them fly when necessary.

Graduation is not a final destination. It’s a port. If you got the most out of your education you will see the open seas and be overwhelmed about all the opportunities that await you.

Please don’t think for a moment that your diploma is equipped with a GPS. Your diploma is like a driver’s license. And if you can remember the day you passed your road test you had no problem saying you still had a lot to learn.

Sometime in the next week or so, check your parents’ odometer and see how many miles they’ve journeyed on the Yellow Brick Road and ask them what they’ve learned in all the years they’ve been driving.

It is totally out of character for me to say anything that is not a tad wicked, but I will break character today and say this. You life is what you make of it and if I can offer you a suggestion, your life will be full of meaning if you take full responsibility for your actions, your motives and your decisions. You will never have full control of what happens to you in life, but you can retain control over how you deal with what life throws at you. So don’t spend your life blaming others.

Formal education eventually comes to an end, but learning does last a lifetime…if you choose a lifetime of learning.

Now get out of here before I turn you into a Munchkin.


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witch of the north.jpg


Past commencement speakers at Emerald University didn’t need introductions because they were all iconic figures. Even after Chancellor Green introduced me I could see a sea of puzzled faces asking the question, “Who is she?”

Well, I’ll tell you. I am the Good Witch of the North.

If you saw the movie, you didn’t see me, because my character didn’t make it to the silver screen. Whether the reason for my absence was financial or literary, Glinda did double duty, stealing whatever thunder I had for my brief appearance in L. Frank Baum’s book. .  If you read the book, you’ll remember I didn’t have a name.  All I had was a description:

“The little woman’s hat was pure white. It rose about a foot above her head and was pointed at the tip with little jingle bells which ran all across the brim and made a faint tinkling sound as she moved. She wore a puffy white gown that hung in pleats from her shoulders. Over it were sprinkled little stars and half moons that glistened in the sun like diamonds. The little woman’s face was covered with wrinkles, her eyes were the color of violets, her short curly hair was nearly all white, and she walked rather stiffly, but had a friendly, welcoming smile. ”

Despite such an innocuous characterization, my life mattered as does yours. With social media placing a heavy burden on your shoulders, the thought of being nameless in a selfie world is anathema to you. By the end of the day I can’t tell you how many new profile photos of freshly minted college grads will grace the pages of Face Book. It’s clearly an indication that we want the world to know we are here.

Being the host of a top rated cable talk show, appearing on the cover of some high profile business magazine, going viral, or selling an app for a gazillion dollars, might be what gets your adrenaline flowing. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those goals. But.

And by “but” I don’t mean a little “but.”  I mean the big “But” with one “t.” I have to add that in the event I get accused of making some a remark that can be taken the wrong way.

My role in Dorothy’s journey might not get the recognition I believe it deserves, but that really doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I was the one who came to Dorothy’s rescue after she dropped in on us in Oz. I not only welcomed her, I assured her that I was there to help her. When Dorothy told me she wanted to go home, I turned my white cap into a slate that told me to tell Dorothy to follow the Yellow Brick Road to Oz.

Being the least powerful of the four witches of Oz, I couldn’t join Dorothy on her journey, but I didn’t let her go off without me doing something that made all the difference. I placed a special kiss on her fore-head and told her “No one will dare injure a person who has been kissed by the Witch of the North.”

As scary as the deepest and darkest stretches of the Yellow Brick Road might have been, those stretches pale in comparison to the long road you are about to travel. And while I wish I could tell you that a kiss on your forehead will protect you from all the evil people who are out there waiting for you, I would be lying.

So what should you do?  How can you be assured that you will have a safe journey? The answer is as simple as it is complex. If you’ve yet to do it, you need to reach down deep and find your center. You need to align yourself with the spirit of goodness you were born with. You might have forgotten about this center, but it is there.

Don’t confuse this center with a GPS, because if you do, more likely than not it will keep “recalculating.” Your center is your internal compass. You will know in your heart if you are going off course as might be the case because in the end we are only human. But always remember being human should not be used as an excuse.

If you do happen to take a selfie today, take a long, hard look at it and ask yourself, is my face a reflection of the spirit that informs me and drive me, or is it a faceless face.

No matter where you go and no matter what you do, you will never be nameless, because the universe knows who you are.

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Scarecrow, Ph.D.

President So-and-So, esteemed ‘bored’ of trustees, faculty and graduates, I am honored to be here today at Emerald University because I had nothing better to do. Tomorrow would have been a problem, because I do have something better to do. But I digress.

I won’t saying anything important or profound because most of you aren’t listening anyway. And those of you who are listening, you’re probably wondering why Emerald University couldn’t get a celebrity or high-profile politician. I’ll tell you. They couldn’t afford anybody of note. That’s why I’m here. I charge by the hour, and since my commencement address won’t run on for more than seven minutes, it’s only going to cost the University about $4.25 for my services.

So, what words of wisdom does a scarecrow have to give to you on this very important day? No words of wisdom. Just some words of advice.

Now that you have your diploma in hand, what are you going to do with the rest of your life? I hope you have more than a career in mind, because you would have wasted four valuable years of your life that’s all you expect from four years of college.

I won’t ask you if you actually learned anything in college because I already know the answer. And if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll know what I’m talking about. What you studied and what you learned are not necessarily the same things. If you didn’t learn how to learn and if you didn’t learn how to love learning, you didn’t learn anything. All you got out of four years is a degree.

I got a degree and my head is filled with straw. But you want to know something? It’s not my degree that matters, it’s my unquenchable thirst to keep on learning. And by that, I don’t mean to learn only what you need to learn to climb the corporate ladder. All you need to learn about climbing the corporate ladder is that you’re going to be looking at a lot of ugly butts. I mean you should learn what it means to be alive, what it means to be blessed with imagination and curiosity.

Put your degree away and put on your silver shoes. Take off your gown and prepare to step out on the yellow brick road. But keep this in mind. There are no guarantees. The summa cum laude student is not necessarily going to be the one who makes the big bucks and ends up a CEO of a company. The student who was totally involved in college activities and served unselfishly on every committee might take a low paying job for a not-for-profit organization…and be the happiest person alive.

Life is a crap shoot. None of you are entitled to anything. Shit happens and the pigeon poops indiscriminately. But never stop loving and don’t be afraid of the future. Keep an open heart and be courageous. Always do the right thing…even if the right thing benefits someone else and not you.

And lastly, I want to tell you something no other commencement speaker ever says. Be careful you who you trust. There will be a number of wizards who cross your path on the YBR. They’ll promise you anything. They’ll even say they can send you home. I tell you this…don’t trust them. And whatever you do, don’t become like them. Trust is in short supply in today’s world. And boy do we need to see it restored to its former glory. Because without trust, the yellow brick road is a dead-end street.

So, who can you trust? I wish I could answer that question. All I can tell you is…we all get burned in learning how and whom to trust.  And for a scarecrow, that’s not a good thing…getting burned I mean.

When you leave here today, don’t think that the learning is over. (There might not be any exams, but you will continually be tested.)

Learn. Learn something new and wonderful about yourself and the world every day. Learn how to love.  And learn how to be loved.

God speed!

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