Commencement Address

Dear Students of (insert-name-here) School

Traditionally, the purpose of a commencement day address is to put the cap on your education by giving you some sound advice that will help you as you prepare to face up to the challenges of real life. In the next half an hour, I am expected to distill everything you need to know into a few pithy, memorable phrases which you will somehow manage to hang onto and, indeed, live by. What I tell you today will make you better, happier, more responsible and successful citizens.

Frankly, this seems optimistic. Within three hours, most of you will be so drunk that you can't remember your own names, much less something that some pompous stranger on a podium said to you earlier in the afternoon. Moreover, this school has been trying for five years to shape you into decent, motivated, and knowledgeable citizens of this great country: if the lessons haven't stuck by now, it's vain to hope that I can somehow fill in the gaps in forty-five minutes. If by some miracle I can tell you everything you need to know in three-quarters of an hour, then that has definite implications for the educational system. For one thing, it suggests that five years of expensive education have been largely wasted and that your parents would have done better to send you all down a coal mine at age thirteen, where you could have learned a trade, contributed usefully to the economy, and, most importantly, been blessedly out of sight and out of earshot of your elders and betters for the entire period.

Nevertheless, tradition requires that I make the attempt. So please, turn off your mobile phones, put away your gaming devices, stop trying to sneak a peek at your fellow student's panties as she leans forward to whisper to her neighbour, and pretend to be paying attention. This is a skill that you will need to practice: much of the remainder of your life is going to be spent in pretending interest in the words of people for whom you feel nothing but contempt - your employer, your co-workers, federal judges, court-mandated substance dependency counsellors and, last but not least, your partners and children. Your success and happiness may depend on mastering this skill: you may as well start now.

Before I begin, I would like to salute the qualities that have brought you here today. You have completed your courses and passed your exams: it follows therefore, that you have the necessary intelligence, organization and learning ability to meet the not-excessively rigorous requirements of an American education. But what about your real qualities?

If you are here today, it is because you have successfully resisted the impulse to buy a secondhand Tec-9 from a pizza chef and punctuate your English teacher and some of your more odious classmates with a couple of well-aimed bursts. This requires patience and fortitude. Congratulations.

Similarly, those of you who are here today are, necessarily, those who successfully escaped being cut down in a hail of bullets when your weaker brothers and sisters succumbed to temptation. Congratulations: the ability to hit the floor and crawl rapidly for the exits at the first sound of gunfire is a skill that will stand you in increasingly good stead in the years to come.

Ladies, if you are here today, it is because you have managed to avoid getting knocked up and having to drop out. It may be that you had the confidence and self-control necessary to successfully fend off the assaults of your acne-ravaged and hormonally-charged peers for the past five years. It may be that you had the necessary intelligence and discipline to procure and systematically use an efficient form of contraception. It may be that you knew someone who was willing to pay for the abortion. It may be that you paddle in the sweeter waters of Sapphic love. Or you may simply look like the north end of a southbound horse. Whatever the explanation, by reaching your graduation without having started a family, you have given evidence of qualities that will be of value to you in future.

If you are here today, it is because you have learned some basic, essential survival skills. You have learned not to ride in your friend's car when he's so drunk that he can't find the clutch and has to drive all the way home in first gear. You have learned not to buy drugs from undercover cops. You have learned to bully the weak and ingratiate yourself with the powerful. Do not forget these lessons: they are more valuable than anything you have been taught in class, and have a wider application.

By reaching graduation, you have demonstrated that you have learned the two most important skills of all: self-preservation in all its various forms and the ability to at least minimally satisfy the expectations that people have of you. These are the skills that you will need to get by in the rest of your life. Cultivate them.

Your high school years may not seem like a haven of peace and contentment but, trust me, they were. From here on, it gets harder. No longer will you be able to relieve your feelings of frustration by finding someone smaller and weaker than you and flushing their head in a toilet. You will have to be polite to people that you despise. You will find that there are many, many things more demeaning and less enjoyable than biology pop quizzes and history homework. You will spend most of the rest of your life doing those things.

Much will change over the next few years. You will come to realize that many things that seem important to you now - hanging out with the 'popular' crowd, getting good grades in civics, wearing the 'right' clothes and listening to the 'right' bands - are not important. Other things that seem important to you now - getting laid, finding that one special person who doesn't mind going 'down there' - are important, and will continue to be so. Only time will tell you which is which.

The world is a much harsher place now than it was when I left high school and it will only get worse. Your future is in the hands of cynical and greedy men with tremendous power, who will stop at nothing to exploit and humiliate you. You can forget any ideas that you may have had about freedom, equality or justice. You can forget any expectation of privacy. We are living in the twenty-first century, and the twenty-first century does not concern itself with your basic rights. Your democracy has been sold to the highest bidder and the economy is in the hands of greedy oligarchs with the morals of ferrets on speed. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, as the Latin poet observed. You, on the other hand, will be crushed, humiliated and ultimately thrown on the economic slagheap in the interests of "increasing shareholder value". You will give up your life, your essential genius, your creative spark, your very soul in the service of someone else's pension fund, and all you will get in return is a bigger car, a mortgage and an ulcer.

This being the case, remember that you owe nothing to anyone but yourself. Do not offer courtesy, respect or dedication to those who deny you the same. Concentrate on distilling one drop of sweetness from the fermenting sewage of your wretched existence, whatever the cost. To help you do this, remember the following three golden rules.

First, life is too short for bad alcohol. Drink the good stuff, or don't drink at all.

Second, do anything you have to for sex. You may make yourself ridiculous, but it's better than not getting laid.

Thirdly and finally, question everything. Do not, however, make the mistake of doing so out loud.

Thank you for your feigned attention and welcome to the hell that is the rest of your life. Let the agony begin.