The Commencement Address I Will Never Be Allowed To Give

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President, distinguished faculty, ladies and gentlemen, and graduates. Congratulations, you’ve just completed the modern equivalent of high school from 75 years ago. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. 75 years ago all high school students were required to learn Latin. Statistically speaking, a significant number of you are functionally illiterate.

That may seem unnecessarily harsh to all your fragile egos, but I don’t place the blame entirely on your shoulders. Some of it rests in the lap of our government. Many years ago they, in their impenetrable wisdom, decided that all young people should have a university education. In order to achieve this goal, they continuously lowered the standards of a university degree to such depths that many of you will be hard pressed to leverage your education into any sort of meaningful career.

The blame doesn’t end there, however. The next level of irresponsibility rest squarely on this fine institution of higher learning. Universities function more like quasi-political unions than purveyors of knowledge. In a clever twist of capitalist greed, they’ve secured your financial ruin through astronomical tuitions while sharpening their political axes on your psyches. In other words, it has cost tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars just to become the political puppets of bitter, out-of-touch intellectuals. Just how irrelevant are these relics of a failed Cold War empire? They’ve convinced you that censorship is actually a good thing, that opposing views must be eliminated and anything remotely capitalistic is evil. Everything, that is, except their extremely expensive education.

The problem with these ideas is that they don’t exist outside the hallowed halls of this educational institution. In short, you have been left woefully unprepared for the real world.

Remarkably, your future struggles are not all on them. Your parents spent a lifetime of teaching that the world revolves around you, that you should trust your feelings and follow your heart. There are three things wrong with these teachings. First, the world doesn’t care at all about you. There are no participation ribbons in life. Second, your feelings lie. They change at a whim and are too unpredictable to guide you in life. Third, your heart is woefully unprepared for the challenges of the real world. In your twenty or so years on this earth, you’ve barely had enough time to learn the most basic lessons of life. Ignorance, reflected upon itself, only creates deeper ignorance. Your heart can not be a trusted guide.

The last one to blame for your current state is you. It’s true that most of you have bought into your education hook, line and sinker. Not once have you seriously stopped to consider whether any of the things you’ve been taught are actually worth learning. You are ultimately responsible for your actions, so don’t just take everything you hear as truth. That applies even to me.

This leads to the hopeful part of my talk. After all, what good is a commencement address without some much need encouragement?
I entreat you, esteemed graduates, to be highly skeptical. Don’t take everyone at their word, even if they claim to be an authority. Claim of authority is not the same as proof of authority.

I also urge you to force upon yourselves the perspectives of others. The universe does not revolve around you. You are a piece of something greater, nothing more, so adapt to this fact.

Speaking of something greater, embrace faith. There are eternal truths that will carry you much farther that following your heart. Seek them, find them, and grow with them.

Finally, do not be so conceited that you’re unwilling to start from the bottom. Work hard. Prove yourself. The world owes you nothing, so earn your place in it.

If you do these things, only then will you start to overcome the failings of your government, your school, your parents and ultimately yourselves.

Thank you, good luck and may God have mercy on your soul.

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The Netarian Doctrine

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“Why do you have candles around your router?”

Dylan smiled. “You noticed.”

“Hard not to. You got melted wax all over your cables,” said Carson.

It was the first time he’d been in Dylan’s room, even though they’d been in the same dorm all year. It was only after they were assigned to a project together that’s he’d seen the place Dylan called ‘The Sanctuary’.

“What gives?”

Dylan placed his palms together and bowed. “Welcome to the Temple of Net.”

“The temple of what?”

“The Net.”

“I don’t get it.”

“This is my church,” announced Dylan.

“It’s a dorm room,” scoffed Carson.

Dylan frowned. “Don’t infringe on my human rights, man. This is my church.”

“How do you figure?”

“I’m glad you asked. I worship the greatest god ever conceived by man. The internet.”

Carson took a step back. “You’re joking.”

“No, man. It’s brilliant. Consider the divinity of the World Wide Web. The Trinity of the Net.”

“Okay,” said Carson. He was wondering if this was a joke.

“First, there’s Google. It’s the greatest of all things, the source of all answers. What ever you’re searching for, Google is there. Seek and Google shall find.”

“Whoa, let me step away from you. I don’t wanna be collateral damage when you’re struck by lightening.”

Dylan ignored Carson. “Wikipedia is the compendium of all knowledge. It’s the greatest accumulation of intelligence in the history of humanity.”

“Except for that time when someone edited the ‘Reality’ page and called it a commodity,” scoffed Carson.

Dylan nodded. “Wikipedia is mysterious and wise.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“But that’s what Wikipedia wanted you to mean.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Only to the unbelievers. You should join me. Become a Netarian. It’s easy,” urged Dylan.

“Really? How would one do that?”

“Join fellowship with the third member of the trinity. Facebook.”

Carson frowned. “I’m already on Facebook.”

“You’re halfway there! Do you pray?”

“To who?”

“Google. Every search is a prayer. It makes sense, right?”

“I pray to God,” said Carson, even though he really didn’t.

“Sure, but do you get an immediate response?”

“Sometimes.”

“I get answers instantaneously. Every time. It’s very satisfying.”

Carson grimaced. “I guess, but it’s not real.”

Dylan shrugged. “What’s real? I’ll tell you what, though. The university recognizes my faith.”

Carson’s jaw dropped. “No way.”

“They asked me to write up Netarian doctrine for the religious department. They want to use it as a textbook in their comparative religion course.”

“That’s insane.”

“No, my young Padawan. It’s the modern world.”

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If Lunch Was a Surrealist Painting

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“I love Youtube,” announced Rex in the office lunch room.

“If you love it so much, why don’t you marry it?” asked Brian.

Lynn rolled her eyes. “You know that’s the worst joke ever.”

“Maybe it isn’t a joke,” replied Brian with a sly grin. “Don’t mock someone’s love. Love is not a crime.”

“Oh please.”

“Anyway,” interrupted Rex, “Youtube. I swear, you people have the attention span of over-caffeinated terriers.”

“Squirrel!” yelled Lynn. Brian laughed.

Rex shook his head and pushed away from the table.

“What?” asked Brian.

“I’m done. I don’t know why I talk to you.”

“C’mon, Rex. Tell us why you love Youtube,” pleaded Lynn.

“No way.”

“We’ll be good. Promise,” grinned Brian.

“Nuh uh.”

“Please,” said Brian in his most pathetic tone.

“Please,” added Lynn. “We wanna know. Really.”

Rex relented and sat back down. He leaned forward and spoke in a half whisper. Lynn and Brian responded with urgency.

“Yesterday I found a bunch of videos showing how to make rings out of coins,” said Rex.

The excitement dropped.

“So?” asked Brian.

“I thought you were gonna talk about a conspiracy or something,” added Lynn.

“Youtube’s full of videos on how to make stuff,” said Brian.

“But these were cool. One guy made a ring in two minutes. He did it right in front of you. In real time,” explained Rex.

Lynn considered this. “I suppose it’s better than doing it in imaginary time.”

“Or surreal time,” said Brian.

“What would that look like?” asked Lynn.

“The coin would melt like a spaghetti noodle,” said Brian. “You know, like in a Salvador Dali painting.”

“Spaghetti noodles don’t melt. You know that, right?” asked Lynn.

“It’s a figure of speech,” explained Brian.

“Oh. Okay.”

“Squirrel!” shouted Rex.

“Where?” asked Brian. He looked around the room excitedly.

“I really don’t like you sometimes,” moaned Rex.

“Right. Coin rings are cool,” said Lynn.

“Did you know it’s a crime to deface currency?” asked Brian.

“They don’t enforce it,” said Rex.

“Isn’t that a fine excuse?” scolded Lynn. “Ignore the laws they don’t enforce, why don’t you. Where does that lead? Anarchy, that’s where. Is that what you want?”

“I didn’t say I was making them,” said Rex.

“But you watched them. That makes you an accessory,” said Brian.

“Any by telling us, we’ve become accessories to your accessory,” said Lynn.

“This isn’t what I signed up for when I sat down for lunch,” said Brian.

“I feel so dirty,” said Lynn.

Rex shook his head. “This is that last time I tell you anything.”

“Like announcing your criminal tendencies?” asked Brian.

“Do we have an obligation to report this to the proper authorities?” mused Lynn.

“I’m not sure who that would be,” considered Brian. “In the meantime, we should leave before Rex starts confessing even more heinous crimes.”

“Like downloading movies,” said Lynn.

“I don’t think my heart could handle it,” said Brian.

Rex watched as the two left him alone in the lunch room. He put his head in his hands. “I think my life’s become a Salvador Dali painting.”

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The Sun Day

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Before Nate could enter his office building, he had to run the gauntlet of sun worshippers basking in the glow of a warm summer morning.

“Hello, sir,” said Pardeep. She and Olaf were sitting on a bench near the fountain, typing on their laptops.

“How are you today?” replied Nate.

“Do you have a second?” asked Pardeep.

“Sure.”

“Me and Olaf were talking. In the winter we have snow days, right? Why don’t we have sun days in the summer?”

“We do. They’re called summer vacation,” joked Nate.

“That’s not the same thing. I’m talking about a day like today when it’s way too nice to work,” explained Pardeep.

“That would be most of the summer. Right Olaf?” said Nate. He nodded at Olaf.

“There’s always a lame excuse not to work,” said Olaf. “What we want is a legitimate excuse.”

“You know,” said Nate smugly, “This isn’t the sort of thing you should talk about with your boss.”

“We disagree,” said Pardeep.

“You’re the ideal person to talk to. You’re the only one who can make a decision on the subject,” added Olaf.

“It would be a waste of time if all we did was talk to each other about it,” said Pardeep.

“Always work your way up to the decision maker. That’s a secret of effective salesmanship,” said Olaf.

Nate folded his arms. “So is give and take. Let’s say I hypothetically grant you a sun day. What do I get in return?”

“High morale of your staff,” said Pardeep.

“Staff morale is already high,” countered Nate.

“Political capital. We’ll owe you one,” said Olaf.

“Now you’re talking. But what about lost revenue from absentee staff?”

“We always have our phones. We’re never out of reach,” said Pardeep.

“And don’t forget the extra time we spend in the off hours maintaining the network, repairing the systems,” said Olaf.

“You’ve never complained about our compensation for those times before,” said Nate.

“We’re not complaining about them. It’s because we’ve proven ourselves flexible, we’re hoping you’ll be flexible with us,” said Pardeep.

Nate thought for a second. “I’ll give your a sun day, but only if you answer one question.”

Pardeep smiled. “Okay.”

“Why are my IT people better negotiators than my sales staff?”

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Who’s On FIRST?

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Carter stood in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis and whistled. Below him was the organized chaos of the eight fields of the FIRST Robotics World Championship. “If geeks played a sport, this would be it,” he said aloud.

Juan chuckled. “Impressive, isn’t it?”

“That’s one was to say it,” said Carter.

“You don’t like it.”

“I don’t get it. I mean, what’s the point of all this?”

“Not everyone likes sports, you know,” replied Juan.

“Sure, but I hear the game changes every year. It’s confusing.”

“That’s part of the challenge. All these teams start from scratch. Except for the stuff they learn from year to year.”

Carter stared blankly at Juan.

“Principles of robots, that sort of thing,” explained Juan.

“Alright, sure,” conceded Carter. He watched the beginning of a match. “Who’s playing?”

“In this game? The blue alliance is the Cheesy Poofs, the Fighting Pi and Metallic Clouds. The red alliance have the Thunder Chickens, Flaming Monkeys and TrikzR4Kidz.”

Carter glared at Juan. “You’re messing with me.”

Juan chuckled and raised his hands in defense. “Seriously. There are some awesome team names. There’s Exploding Bacon, Children of the Swamp, and my personal favorite, Robot Dolphins from Outer Space. I’m tellin’ you, it’s a lot of fun.”

The two watched as robots flew over defenses and launched grey balls at towers. A trumpet sounded and the robots scrambled to the base of their opponent’s fortresses. One robot extended arms and pulled itself off the ground. Juan joined the crowd that cheered wildly.

“What just happened?” asked Carter.

“That ‘bot just scaled. The tower’s been taken. Isn’t that incredible?”

“How’d it do that?”

“What do you mean? The team built it that way.”

“High school kids did that?” asked Carter, scratching his head.

“Yeah.”

Carter’s eyes narrowed and he looked at Juan. “High schoolers.”

“With the help of mentors,” said Juan.

“Mentors are like coaches.”

“Exactly.”

“All this from high school students?” asked Carter, skeptically.

“Don’t take my word for it. Ask them. Any of them. They’re all great kids. I have to admit, I love cheering for them,” said Juan.

“Amazing,” mumbled Carter. “Who are you with?”

“I’m just a proud dad. My daughter’s with Celt-X robotics. FIRST tells them they’re the future,” said Juan.

Carter’s eyes widened. “They’re wrong. These kids are the present.”

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Time Will Tell- The Man Who Declared Himself Emperor

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The couple were unusually quiet as they made their way back to their old home in Mill Valley, population 5180. Becky could barely keep herself from smiling. Clement, on the other hand, could only sigh.

“Won’t be long now,” he said.

“Are you excited?” asked Becky, even though she already knew the answer.

“I dunno,” whined Clement.

“Talk to me.”

“It’s just that, I can’t believe I blew it. I wanted to do more, be more. It all just fell apart. I don’t know what I’m saying,” confessed Clement.

“There’s still time, you know. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.”

“What does that mean exactly?”

Becky stroked Clement’s arm as he drove. “It means we’re still growing.”

“You make it sound like we’re little kids.”

“Adults grow, too.”

Clement chuckled. “Yeah. Some of us grow up to be monsters.”

“Monsters don’t make things right.”

“That doesn’t make me feel better. What if this is all I’m capable of doing? Messing up other people’s lives, I mean.”

Now it was Becky’s turn to sigh. Few things are as pathetic as a man feeling sorry for himself. “Let me put it this way,” she said. “If your death makes everyone happy, you probably did everything wrong.”

Clement rolled his eyes. “That’s so helpful. Thanks.”

“That’s what I’m here for.”

“How do I know if I’ve done things right?”

Becky thought for a second. “Well, if you die and God happily welcomes you home, you’re okay.”

“Nice. Either way I’ve gotta die before I find out,” mused Clement.

Becky smiled. “That’s life, my dear. Don’t ask me to explain it.”

The two drove in silence for a few minutes.

Clement finally spoke. “Do you think we’ll be alright?”

Becky looked out the car window at the passing farms. “Time will tell,” she said. “Time will tell.”

The End.

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Living the Dream- The Man Who Declared Himself Emperor

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One week later, Becky and Clement were packing their apartment in silence. There was a knock at the door. Emperor Don poked his head inside. Becky smiled and said hello. Clement groaned.

“I wanted to stop by before you move,” chimed Emperor Don.

“That’s sweet of you,” replied Becky.

Clement buried himself in his bedroom closet.

“Actually,” said Don, looking for Clement, “I wanted to thank you for helping me out of a bad situation.”

Clement rolled his eyes. “Thank Special Ed and Alabama Hanna.”

“From what I’m told, you were the one that brought the video forward and secured my release,” said Don.

“It was more like extortion,” grumbled Clement.

Becky joined the others in the bedroom. “I’m curious, what’s gonna happen to George and Durable Mike?” she asked.

A smile spread across Emperor Don’s face. “Not much. I got my share of the family inheritance back, but I refused to press charges. No sense adding insult to injury.”

Clement grumbled. “So I’m the only one who gets punished. Marvelous.”

“Nobody’s punishing you, Clement. I came by to also let you know I’m picking up the cost of your move.”

“That’s amazing. Thank you so much. Clement, isn’t that amazing?” gushed Becky. She gave Emperor Don a big hug.

Clement stared at Don. “All I see is someone in a hurry to get rid of us.”

The vitriol spewed at Don made him cringe. “I have no desire to get rid of you.”

“Special Ed sure acts like he does.”

“He’s overprotective. He’ll settle down eventually. If you really want to stay, it’s your choice. You’re more than welcome here,” said Emperor Don.

Clement held his hands up in surrender. “No, no. I’ve had enough of this city. It’s time to go home.”

Emperor Don smiled. “Isn’t it funny how often we have to leave home before we learn to appreciate it?”
The next day was Clement’s last day at work. Ivan was visibly agitated.

“You okay?” asked Clement.

“No!” shouted Ivan.

Clement hesitated to ask, but it didn’t matter. Ivan was more than willing to expound on his anger.

“I”m sick and tired of being unappreciated,” he explained.

“Who doesn’t appreciate you?”

Ivan glared at Clement. “You, for one. The butterfly freak for another. Don’t even get me started about Linda.”

“Why do you say that?” asked Clement, defensively.

“You all go off, living your dreams. Well, that’s just great. For you to run off means somebody’s gotta stay behind and do the ordinary, everyday stuff.”

“Huh?”

“Do you think it’s anybody’s hope to collect garbage, work in some greasy spoon, or be a middle manager at a bank? We do what we do so you can live your selfish dreams,” complained Ivan.

“Are you crazy? My life’s been a nightmare,” Clement shot back.

“Nightmares are dreams, too. Think about it. You came to the city so you can eventually earn enough to move back to the country. Aren’t you lucky. You do everything wrong and still get what you want,” said Ivan.

“What do you want from me?” demanded Clement.

“Understanding. And thanks.”

Clement grumbled. “Thanks for explaining things to me.”

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