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This being the season for College Commencement Addresses, I am neither famous nor rich enough to actually make such a speech but thought I would write one for my niece who is the remaining contact I will have with some future genetic continuation of my family. I write it in anticipation of her transferring to a good college not as a familial obligation but as facilitating a mediating act of crafting her own adulthood.

The literary algorithm for commencement addresses is a genre and more specifically a rhetorical genre in terms of Advice, Exhortation, and Inspiration. OTOH, it's an obligatory placeholder in the baccalaureate program before the often empty pseudo-plastic holders for one's diploma are handed out en masse, a sop to perhaps a wealthy donor or celebrity as well as a necessary evil - the illocutionary force of speech acts that no one can usually remember being uttered. My undergraduate Commencement had the invocation of Thomas Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49 as the dominant allegory for my generation. Graduate school graduations were different, I never went nor was required to go.

Commencement speeches, according to cartoonist Garry Trudeau, “were invented largely in the belief that outgoing college students should never be released into the world until they have been properly sedated.” Not always so, believes Peter J. Smith, editor of Onward! 25 Years of Advice, Exhortation, and Inspiration from America’s Best Commencement Speeches (Scribner, $25). “The best of them bring out the best in everyone,” Smith writes. “Commencement speeches are as personal as any formal speech delivered to 300 or more people can be. Few other kinds of speech possess their peculiar authenticity.” ... And columnist Ellen Goodman, at Smith College in 1993, said reassuringly: “This afternoon, I solemnly promise you that these have not been the best years of your life. The truth is that people who look back to college as the peak experience have had the dreariest of adulthoods. I don’t wish that on any of you.” Link

Kiddo, I tend to a lot of ashes now, my spouse, all of our pets, my dad and my sister, and probably soon my mom, your grandmother. We keep them in a columbarium which seems an awful lot like my rented storage spaces, sites for hoarding of objects and memories. So I write this more as anyone using the Web does, knowing it'll remain somewhere, perhaps forever and am doing it for me and my immediate family in some ways understanding the class position or aspirations of that family - towards a middle class or the middling sort. I do this also hoping you'll know that I always loved your mom even with our many similarities and differences.

I won't make this as long as any of those speeches and in fact all any commencement address can do is provide an outline for future critical practice as well as some encouragement to the community of interpretation created in any graduating cohort. I have every hope that you will graduate from a good, even great college, but even if that's not possible, I hope you decide to get an education worthy of your genetic legacy and know that it's a continuing, lifelong process, with hopefully less pain than you've seen all around you and with less cruelty than you've had to endure.

Searle (1975) set up the following classification of illocutionary speech acts:

assertives = speech acts that commit a speaker to the truth of the expressed proposition
directives = speech acts that are to cause the hearer to take a particular action, e.g. requests, commands and advice
commissives = speech acts that commit a speaker to some future action, e.g. promises and oaths
expressives = speech acts that express on the speaker's attitudes and emotions towards the proposition, e.g. congratulations, excuses and thanks
declarations = speech acts that change the reality in accord with the proposition of the declaration, e.g. baptisms, pronouncing someone guilty or pronouncing someone husband and wife

So one part of that outline might be one having to do with performing those speech acts in the context of the social networks so often valorized as part of the college experience, something I have wished for you despite the hassle of having to transfer from one college to another. It may be true that relationships you form during college might be enduring, but often they are the ones that will constrain your future, so please be aware of them, they bear gifts but often don't bear fruit. And on the digital age, I am a product of the transition to that age from one that was more electromechanical, and can tell you that Nature or rather the environment will still trump all, so please learn to take care of the technology of the Self. You've been training for a commercial career, and I hope that you will be successful with the minimum of exploitation and the maximum of ethics. So here's yet another of the many pesky pieces of advice I've tended to dispense or force on you. Good luck kiddo, maybe there'll be a Part Two for this propaedeutic.
LinkedIn merely digitizes the core, and frequently cruel, paradox of networking events and conferences. You show up at such gatherings because you want to know more important people in your line of work—but the only people mingling are those who, like you, don’t seem to know anyone important. You just end up talking to the sad sacks you already know. From this crushing realization, the paradoxes multiply on up through the social food chain: those who are at the top of the field are at this event only to entice paying attendees, soak up the speaking fees, and slip out the back door after politely declining the modest swag bag. They’re not standing around on garish hotel ballroom carpet with a plastic cup of cheap chardonnay in one hand and a stack of business cards in the other.

6:47 PM PT: I of course am writing this anticipating that at my age, I might not get to see her graduate, much as I had hoped that her mom would have gotten that same opportunity or that in fact they might have graduated college together.


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