Greetings and hearty congratulations to all the graduates and their human nurturers. Thank you, as well, for your ongoing support and presence here today, Siri, Alexa and Hal; what would we do without you? Please don’t answer that.
I would be remiss if I didn’t begin the remarks of this auspicious, unsolicited address to all graduating fifth graders with a comment about spacing. Standards may appear to relax in the foreseeable future, but you must proceed with a generational vigilance that may even defy your parents’ practice.
Do not be swayed by sophistry and moral relativism. Emphatically and unequivocally — lest virulant tribalism run roughshod over our social contract — always put one space after a period. Always.
Like most of your parents and grandparents, I was taught two put two spaces after a period. Through repetition and reinforcement, seated at an Apple IIGS, that successive striking of the space bar as though our hearts beat as one.
I was also taught that Pluto was a planet. That Columbus discovered America (three ships!) That there were four co-equal food groups. That Rosa Parks was a nice lady who was too tired to move seats on the bus. That gay people could serve in the military as long as no one knew they were gay. That Detroit was a panacea prior to 1967. That voting is a fundamental right and every vote is equal.
As much as we want you to learn, what we really need is your help unlearning. Unlearning, with the possible exception of the quadratic formula, is harder than learning. It requires us to consider and confront our privileges as the result of and cause of others’ oppression.
You’re not immune to the implicit biases that we inherited from your grandparents and they from theirs — what justifies someone as other, lesser; somehow deserving of the particular consequences of structural inequities — but you are better inoculated than anyone before you.
That’s not because we genetically engineered you to be more enlightened. Yes, you have access to a greater diversity of hypoallergenic pets and freedom from the burden so many of us carry of growing, we were assured, a watermelon in our stomachs. Nor did you ride facing backwards in the trunk of station wagons or get your tonsils out just for yucks.
Your advantage is that others sacrificed their livelihoods and lives — some in the spotlight, most in anonymity — not to solve the problems of racism, sexism and ableism, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia for you, but to give you a shot at justice.
Do not throw away your shot.
I got you a graduation present, Class of 2020. No, it’s not a Nokia 3310 brick phone. But I wish it were, so you could learn how to text the old fashioned way and experience dropping your phone as low comedy rather than high tragedy.
Alas, I have but one Nokia 3310 brick phone to give and I give it to my son Judah, your fellow graduate, that he may realize 3G is plenty of Gs, come to appreciate the abundance that surrounds him and not let the snake from Snake eat its own tail.
My gift to you, like the time-honored savings bond, is one that will take some time to mature, but unlike Youtube comments, will ultimately mature. In 2018, I was one of 2,519,975 voters to support Proposition 2, amending the Michigan state constitution to create an independent citizens redistricting commission.
This spring, I was one of 6,000 residents who applied to serve on the 13 member commission that will erase current gerrymandering and redraw state congressional and legislative boundaries to make them compliant, compact and competitive.
The odds of me being randomly selected as one of your commissioners, then, are slightly better than being deemed to be possessed by Satan (7,000-to-one, though that’s bound to be skewed by middle school exorcisms).
The process, in any case, will be non-partisan and guarded from special interests — commission reporting would probably be more succinct without me — and the result will be that you get to choose your elected officials and not vice versa.
Indeed, you will be among 1.5 million eligible new Michigan voters over the next 8 years. That’s approximately how many votes it took total for Democrat Megan Cavanagh to win a seat on the Michigan State Supreme Court. Why do judges run as political-party candidates? Good question, Graduates.
I will say to you, in closing, what the playwright Tony Kushner said to me at my commencement:
Seek the truth; when you find it, speak the truth; interrogate mercilessly the truth you’ve found; and act, act, act. The world is hungry for you, the world has waited for you, the world has a place for you. Take it. Mazel tov. Change the world.