Best graduation speech: Stealing lines from other ones

“Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.”

Author, entrepreneur and graduation speaker Paul Hawken

Well, it’s happened again. Here we are in June and, despite my dropping numerous hints about my availability, I have not been invited to speak at a single graduation ceremony.

It’s a particular shame this year because I have put together a stellar graduation speech. Rather than follow my usual approach in preparing a speech (steal the theme, the ideas, and much of the text from the speech of someone more smarter and more articulate than I are), this year I decided to take a different approach and put together a speech made up of quotes taken from a dozen graduation speeches.

For example, in the graduation speech I won’t be delivering this year, I would have stressed the importance of supporting the arts as documentary filmmaker Ken Burns did recently in a commencement address he delivered at Boston College: “Insist that we support the sciences and the arts, especially the arts. They have nothing to do with the defense of the country; they just make the country worth defending.”

I’d have also asked the eager young grads hanging on my every word to keep their priorities in line, to turn away from our national obsession with celebrity and recognize those in our society who are true heroes by quoting Attorney General Eric Holder at Howard University: “A person who can teach a child to read is infinitely more valuable to our society than a person with a good jump shot.”

I would have urged the adoring and transfixed young graduates to remember those less fortunate than themselves by repeating the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the University of North Carolina: “It is possible to eradicate hunger. How can we live and sleep comfortably knowing that millions of our sisters and brothers go to bed hungry?”

Perhaps I’d inspire the graduates to do great things by paraphrasing President Obama’s words in front of the U.S. Naval Academy: “We pay tribute to all who have given their lives so that we might live free. These Americans have embraced the virtues that we need most right now—self-discipline over self-interest, work over comfort, character over celebrity.”

I’d caution the graduates about the overwhelming task that lies ahead of them (end war and poverty, fix the economy, restore the earth’s declining natural systems) while advising them not to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task at hand by sharing the words of Paul Hawken at the University of Portland: “Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.”

And knowing that every good graduation speech needs a zinger of an ending, I would have stolen a line from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who offered up his own recipe for success when speaking before the graduates of the University of Southern California (my own alma mater, by the way, which evidently lost my address and telephone number): “Number one, come to America. Number two, work your butt off. And number three, marry a Kennedy.”

To all our high school graduates, and particularly to the graduate who is my daughter, I offer you congratulations and wish you all the best. And if you can’t marry a Kennedy, at least date a Rockefeller.

Tom Tyner of Bainbridge Island writes a weekly humor column for this newspaper. This is from his “Classic’s Files” written years ago.