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COMMENCEMENT 1993

On May 7, some 7,900 graduates and their families gathered to hear
the affectionate taunts and signature satire of Pulitzer Prize-
winning humorist and USC alumnus Art Buchwald, who delivered the
following Commencement address.

“My fellow Trojans, for those of you who can’t see me today, I
look exactly like Robert Redford.

Before I begin, I’m just curious about one thing. I would
like to see the hands of all the graduates who believe that they
are better off today than they were four years ago.

Now a follow-up question. I would like to see the hands of
all those who think that Woody Allen is having a mid-life crisis.

As I look down on your smiling faces, I am reminded of a
cartoon in the New Yorker magazine.

It shows a boy in cap and gown and his father is saying to
him, ‘Congratulations, son, you are now a man. You owe me
$370,000.’

Dr. Sample, I can’t tell you how happy I am to receive an
honorary degree today. I don’t know if I deserve it, but I want
it.

This moment is a highlight for me because my own school has
seen fit to recognize me. This university has changed so much
since I was here in 1948. When I attended USC, there was nothing
but buffalo as far as the eye could see.

I would like to set the record straight about my educational
credentials.

When I was 16 years old, World War II started, and I was
afraid it would be over before I got in. So I ran away from high
school to join the Marine Corps. While I was in the Marines, I
realized if I ever hoped to get out, I’d better go to college. But
I didn’t have a high school diploma. So I went down to USC to find
out what I would have to take in night high school to make up the
grades. But before I could ask what I needed, they enrolled me,
assuming no one would try to register if they didn’t have a high
school diploma.

A year later, they called me in and said, ‘You don’t have a
high school diploma.’

I said, ‘I know.’

They said, ‘You’re not supposed to be in college.’

I said, ‘I know. What do you want me to do now?’

They said they’d make me a special student.

I said, ‘What does that mean?’

They said, ‘You can’t work for a degree.’

I said, ‘I don’t care about that. If I don’t have a high
school diploma, there’s no sense having a college degree.’

So I went for three years and had a ball. Now, 42 years
later, they have given me a degree, which confirms what I have
been saying all along: All of you graduates today have wasted your
time.

Now although I never participated in any USC athletics, I did
make a vital contribution to the athletics program: I took the
English tests for the football team.

I thought I was doing a good job until the tackle complained
to the coach that I got him a D in Shakespeare, and was hurting
his chances of getting into medical school.

I am not here today to bring you a message of doom. I say the
class of 1993 is the luckiest one that ever graduated — and
probably the last. My message to you today is that we, the older
generation, have given you a perfect world — so don’t screw it
up.

You are the generation of Madonna, Nike sneakers and Ross
Perot. You can’t find work, and you can’t get health insurance,
and NBC puts firecrackers on your pickup trucks.

But I don’t feel sorry for you. As I told Hillary Clinton the
other day, ‘We never promised you a Rose Garden.’

The tendency these days is to wring our hands and say
everything is rotten, but I don’t feel that way. I am basically an
optimist — otherwise I would never drive on the San Diego
Freeway.

I know that many of you are angry with our generation because
we left you a $4 trillion debt. Well, I would like to remind you
of one thing: It was our money and we could do anything we wanted
with it.

I don’t know if this is the best of times or the worst of
times. But I can assure you of this: It’s the only time you’ve
got. So you can either stay in bed or go out and pick a daisy.

We seem to be going through a period of nostalgia, and
everyone seems to think that yesterday was better than today. I
personally don’t think it was — and if you’re hung up on
nostalgia, my advice is to pretend that today is yesterday and go
out and have a helluva time.

For starters, there are many things you can do after the
ceremony is over today. I would recommend hugging your parents and
grandparents as hard as you possibly could. I would ask your
favorite professor for his or her autograph. And finally, I would
take one last walk around the campus with someone you love. I am
not one of these graduation speakers who is going to tell you how
to make a better world. I am here to give you practical advice on
how to deal with the real jungle out there.

For example, some of you may have chosen to become doctors.
If you do, my advise to you is get as much malpractice insurance
as you possibly can. Because for every student graduated from USC
medical school today, there are two students graduating from the
law school waiting to kill you.

Then you’re probably wondering if there will be any jobs
waiting for you when you finish your schooling. You have nothing
to worry about. I can assure you that out of this class of 7,900
students, 131 of you are going to find jobs. I know who you are,
but I’m not at liberty to tell you.

The most important piece of advice I can give you in your job
hunting is that every time you make a phone call, there will
always be some secretary trying to stonewall you who won’t let you
speak to the person you want to.

Secretaries are very protective of their bosses, and they
demand to know what your business is and what you’re calling
about.

Now this is how I suggest you handle this, because this is
the way I handle it. Whenever a secretary says to me, in a very
snooty voice, ‘May I inquire what you’re calling about?’ I say,
‘Tell Mr. Golson, I’m at his house with a truckload of pork
bellies that he bought in the commodities market. Does he want me
to dump them on his lawn or stuff them in the cellar?’

If that doesn’t work, the second one usually does: ‘Tell Mr.
Golson we just got his tests back from the lab.’

And if that one fails, this one never has: ‘Tell Mr. Golson I
just found his American Express Card on a bed at the Silk Pussycat
Motel. Does he want me to bring it in or mail it to him?’

My final message to you today is that I could have said
something profound, but you would have forgotten it in 15 minutes
— which is the afterlife of a graduation speech.

Therefore, I chose to give this kind of speech, so that 20
years from today, when your children ask you what you did on
graduation day, you can say, ‘I laughed.’

“Thank you.”

[Photo:] Art Buchwald

[Photos:] Above, the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences’
satellite ceremony for the Division of Humanities in Founders
Park, north of Bovard Hall. Bottom right, graduates of the School
of Public Administration greet friends as they march to their
seats. From left, varsity basketball player Mike Owens of
Wilmington, Del., Dan Chien of West Los Angeles and Ben Lorenzo of
Kansas City, Mo. Bottom left, USC president Steven B. Sample.

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