Another Graduation Speech!

When I was a sophomore here at Carleton, I awoke one fine Saturday morning to discover, with some degree of alarm and horror, that I had, at some point during the night, wet the bed. I’d prefer not to get into the details surrounding the event, but I will assure you that this was not a habit of mine (and is still not, for that matter), and I will say only that when I had returned to my dorm room the previous night, my beloved roommates had encouraged me to drink an entire Nalgene of water before retiring to the Land of Nod.  Now, you may wonder why I have chosen to divulge this information in front of all these people and on such an important, momentous occasion.  After all, it is a little bit embarrassing: I peed the bed.  Well, for one, I wanted to explain why some of my friends sometimes call me “Pee Pee Pantalones.”  But more importantly, I wanted to illustrate how liberating it can be, not only to pee your pants every once in a while, but also to laugh.  And in particular, to laugh at yourself.

And now for a brief digression: I have learned so many things in the past four years.  I have learned, at various points in my Carleton career, about subduction zones, the Harlem Renaissance, Theravada Buddhism, what a voiceless fricative is, that the Victorian novel is at once policing and subversive (or is it?), that singing in the dark with a group of women can be both electrifying and calming, that sometimes there is nothing more beautiful than miles of cornfields and open sky, that sometimes you have to sacrifice homework for more important things, like watching “Arrested Development” with your roommate, that correlation does not equal causation, that Chaucer was a very dirty man, that you can’t judge people based on first impressions, that sometimes the best smell in the world is Malt-o-Meal in the air, that sometimes you have to stay up all night working because when you should have been working earlier, you were watching “Arrested Development” with your roommate, that that’s okay, because sometimes the vending machine gives you two Snickers when you only paid for one, and that is the best gift in the world when it’s 4am and you’re in the CMC.  And perhaps most importantly (and to bring things back to the point), I have learned to love my friends, because they make fun of me.

My friends make fun of me a lot.  Not only for the aforementioned incident, but for other things too.  They make fun of me for my tendency to verbalize my inner monologue. They make fun of me for wearing grandma-style cardigans, and for always talking about how much food I’ve just eaten and how I shouldn’t have eaten so much food, and they make fun of me for getting inordinately stressed out when I try to cook, and for complaining, and because, let’s face it, I can be annoying sometimes.  My friends make fun of me, and I couldn’t be more grateful. 

Why?  Because it is so important to look at ourselves, and to see all those things that other people see.  If we don’t do that, how will we ever know how ridiculous we are?  And if we don’t know that, how will be avoid developing that thing called “self-importance”?  And if we think that we are flawless or somehow better than anyone else, how will we ever be willing to give ourselves up, to let someone else in, to share our strengths and passions and weaknesses and fears and our ability to help each other?  I think that acknowledging our own flaws is a way of connecting with other people.  When I told my roommates about my moment of urological weakness, it was a real bonding experience.  Because I let them in; I made myself a little bit vulnerable, and in return, they vowed never to let me forget that I had peed my pants.  The real point is, they didn’t shun me because my bladder had gotten a little carried away.  Instead, we all laughed about it, and that made us closer.  So let us not get angry or offended when someone points out our weaknesses.  Because we all have them; so let’s laugh about them.  Because the best comedy is funny because it’s true.

Now, we mustn’t get carried away with our imperfections, or we’ll have a hard time getting out of bed each morning.  It’s important to recognize our strengths, too.  Not to boast, but we who are graduating today are an incredibly talented group of people.  We are going to do so many things and have so many successes.  Let’s celebrate that for a moment and think about all the good things we’ve got going for us and the good things we will create.  But, lest we get swept away by the tides of overconfidence, let’s think once more about those flaws.  Do you find it hard to stop talking about how much food you’ve just eaten?  Do you externalize your inner monologue?  Or wear grandma-style cardigans?   Maybe not.  But I bet there’s something.  Something that might connect you with someone else.  As for me, I can’t promise I’ll stop monologuing, but at least I know I do it, and maybe that will help me somewhere down the road, or help me help some other troubled soul, to whom I can say, “Hey.  I monologue too.”

I think that there’s a reason we feel close to each other when we’re laughing with each other.  It’s because we’re opening up; we’re letting go of that urge to appear dignified; we’re letting someone else see who we are, and they’re letting us see who they are.  And there is a reason we feel a little bit better when we laugh at ourselves.  It’s because we’re opening up; we’re letting go of the urge to be important and infallible; we’re realizing that we really are pretty silly sometimes; we’re letting ourselves see who we are.  And there is a reason that the beds in college dorm rooms are covered in plastic.  It’s because sometimes, we wet the bed.