The Class of 2023, he observed in a recent keynote address at his alma mater, is poised to enter a “hellscape where you will have to fight for every scrap of your humanity and dignity.”
The comedian seasoned his speech with jokes, but its “hard truth” is one that could find favor with activist Greta Thunberg – namely that the inattention, apathy, and blithe wastefulness of his generation, and all generations that came before have saddled today’s young people with a seriously messed up planet:
Your concerns as you stumble out into reality tomorrow are massive. Democracy is crumbling. Truth is up for grabs. The planet’s trying to kill us and loneliness is driving everyone insane.
The good news?
Your generation has rebelled against every bad habit of mine and every generation that came before it. Everything that we let calcify, you have kicked against and demolished.
He sees a student body willing to battle apathy, alienation, and cruelty, who insist on inclusion and openness about mental health.
(By contrast he was a “little daffodil” who angrily took his Physics for Poets prof to task for having committed an inaccuracy involving Star Trek’s chain of command on the final exam.)
The former English major mangles a quote from author Gerald Kirsch’s 1938 short story Busto is a Ghost, Too Mean to Give Us a Fright!
The real quote is:
…there are men whom one hates until a certain moment when one sees, through a chink in their armour, the writhing of something nailed down and in torment.
The paraphrased sentiment retains its power, however, and his sloppy fact checking squares with his portrayal of himself as a lackadaisical B- student.
Returning to campus 32 years later as a successful writer, actor and comedian, he exhorts the most academic members of the Class of 2023 to take a cue from their peers whose GPAs were less than stellar, “the daydreamers, the confused, and the seekers:”
There are people out there who want to manage every moment. They want to divvy up every dream, and they want to commodify every crazy creative caprice that springs out of your cranium. Don’t let them. Be human in all of its bedlam and beauty and madness and mercy for as long as you can and in any way you can.
He may have dashed off his address in his hotel room the night before the ceremony, but he drives his point home with an ingenious Hollywood insider reference that may send the entire class of 2023, their families, professors, and you, dear reader, rushing to view (or revisit) the 1982 sci fi classic, Blade Runner.
I guess it’s because he didn’t really deserve the degree he got when he was here.
– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.