I have two major unfulfilled goals in life. First, I want to get an article published in the Reader's Digest. Any article will do. Second, I want to give a speech at the graduation ceremony of my high school. I could probably have done this in 1959 I was student body president and the best stand-up comic on campus but I decided not to. I now want to make up for lost time and a lost opportunity. So, on the outside possibility that some editor at Reader's Digest will read this and then decide to publish it, which will then catch the attention of the principal of Mira Costa High School, I have decided to give my speech here. (Note: "mira costa" is not Spanish for "mired in costs." The Spanish phrase for "mired in costs" is "graya davisa.") Before I begin my speech, I want to take a quick survey. I direct this question to the guests, not to the graduating seniors. "How many of you recall clearly your high school graduation I mean before the all-night party?" Please raise your hand.
Leave your hands up, please. Now I have a second question.
"How many of you recall anything from the speech delivered by the distinguished orator who was brought in by your principal to inspire you on gradation day?" If you don't recall anything he said, put down your hand.
Now, for those of you who still have your hands raised, I have one more question: "How many of you were so inspired by a remark made by the distinguished orator that it in some way shaped your life?" If you cannot think of anything, please put down your hand.
Now take a look around the stands. How many hands do you see? Thank you for helping me conduct this important survey of public opinion. Now for my speech. . . .
THE ALARM CLOCK OF LIFE, AND WHY WE HATE IT
I want to thank Principal McCormack for inviting me to give this graduation speech, a speech which I feel certain will inspire today's graduating seniors for the rest of their lives, as graduation speeches invariably do, as we have just seen. Anthropologists can tell you what high school graduation is: an initiatory rite. It is a major point of transition which, for those of you who will not go on to college, will mark your transition officially to adulthood. For those of you who do go on to college, high school graduation marks a major point of transition for your parents: from borderline financial solvency to monthly panic. You, on the other hand, can postpone your transition to adulthood for another four years or maybe even ten, if you follow my academic path and go to graduate school. But maybe you don't think of yourself as an adult yet. Maybe you're wondering when the bell will go off that announces: "Adult here. The world is now free to kick the daylights out of me." I know when the bell went off for me. Maybe you have heard a similar bell. Maybe you didn't recognize it for what it was. I'm here to tell you: "That was it. It's too late to turn back." I was fortunate. I heard that bell very clearly. Of course, in high school, you hear a lot of bells, all day long. One of the marks of your transition to adulthood is that you won't have to listen to these bells any more, unless you come back as a teacher. But I'm talking about an internal bell. You will hear this bell more and more as you grow older. I suggest that you pay attention to it early, preferably the first time you hear it. I can remember it with amazing clarity. It was the clearest bell in my high school experience. I was sixteen years old, just about to turn seventeen. I was a senior. It was election day. I was running for student body president. It was lunch hour. I was in the same room where I had been waiting, one year earlier, for the results of another election. I had been running for president of the high school honor society, the California Scholarship Federation. I had won that election. One year later, I was wondering if I would win this election, too. It seemed to me that I had been waiting for the results of that other...
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