The Ultimate Commencement Speech

Imageby Karen Topakian

As I stand here staring across the campus green at your bright and shiny faces, I am reminded of my own college graduation. A day that changed my life. A day of inspiration.

My commencement speaker moved, cajoled and entertained me. She chose interesting tidbits of knowledge that she had gained over the years as a Pulitzer, Olympic, Nobel, Polk, Peabody, MacArthur, Emmy and Academy award winning person.

She shared her inner most secrets. Her trials and tribulations. Her early life as a homeless person, sex slave, sharecropper, gravedigger, cancer survivor, rape victim, incest survivor, refugee and cocktail waitress. How she valiantly fought her way through the underbrush of the Congo, the red tape of hospitals and insurance companies, the strangleholds of her teenage pimps and slave masters to learn how to write haikus in five non-Romance languages, paint breathtaking water colors blind-folded, compose symphonies for the oboe and kettle drum while languishing in a Turkish prison and pioneering cognitive therapy treatments for underage toreadors suffering from taurophobia. She did it all while working two forty hour a week jobs, taking care of sick relatives and drug addicted babies.

I cried with her as she told the story of her valiant, heroic life-changing struggles with bulimia, anorexia, alcoholism, drug addictions, gambling addictions and sex addictions.

I laughed with her when she shared the story of escaping from a brothel at the age of six by impersonating a sumo wrestler.

I hung on her every word when she described the first time she met Queen Elizabeth, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez, Elizabeth Taylor, Jack and Bobby Kennedy, H. Rapp Brown, Angela Davis, Eldridge Cleaver, Michael Jackson, Elvis, John Lennon, Eleanor Roosevelt, Abbie Hoffman, Sylvia Plath, Jonas Salk, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Gloria Steinem, Lawrence Olivier, Simone de Beauvoir, Rachel Carson, Rosa Parks, Tina Turner, Ella Fitzgerald and JD Salinger.

I applauded the loudest when she sang impromptu a capella versions of  “Amazing Grace,” the “Star Spangled-Banner” and “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”

I screamed for more when she recited verbatim the entire Iliad, Bhagavad-Gita Gita and Koran.

When she finished, men in white coats carrying a butterfly net, swept her diminutive form from the podium while I wept, clutching my hands, bloodied from excessive clapping and shrieking hoarsely for an encore.

As they pulled her off the stage kicking and screaming, I learned this valuable lesson that I will share with you, “If it sounds like batshit, it probably is batshit.”

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