May 21, 2019
I’m Art Kumbalek and man oh manischewitz what a world, ain’a? So listen, it’s that time of year again that finds me pounding the pavement trying to get one of these commencement speaker gigs, what the fock.But first, I got to send a big ol’ Badger shout-out over to the gang at Madtown’s Crystal Corner Bar (thanks for reading) “charm school” on Williamson Street there for a focking thoughtful donation (five Nixon$, no Jackson$, it’s complicated) to the Art Kumbalek Spring Fund Drive (good works guaranteed, or at least a couple, three good cocktails for the namesake).
Makes me think I would’ve been a good choice for UW-Madison’s graduation gasbag, seeing as how I had some academic experience there way-back-when tear/pepper gas in the air was a familiar springtime sort-of fragrance. God bless America—forget about it, not for me, not then. And now I’m thinking “what’s old is going to be new again,” good lord, what the fock.
But UW never got back to me about the gig, go figure. But I’m still on my annual search for anybody who’s got a bunch of graduates who need speaking to—be they of College, High, Tech, Trade, or Matchbook School; Middle School; Academy Charter Institute of Some Learning for Young People; Grade School; Prison Substance-Abuse Good-Neighbor Sanity Program for Early Release; Pre-School; Nursery School; Daycare Center Who Employs a Bus Driver Who Can Conduct a Head-Count—I’m your talking head. You pony up 50 bucks with a case of ice-cold bottled beer, and I’ll be there. And even if you already got a mouthpiece for your ceremonial shindig, perhaps you could send 50 bucks my way anyways as a gratuity for my generous offer to you, I kid you not.
So, what would I say to your students about to fly your scholastic coop?
Well sir, I always enjoy to kick-off my speechifying remarks with a humorous anecdote, maybe something that goes like this:
Little Jimmy was on his way to visit his grandmother. Seated next to him on the plane was an adult stranger who turned to little Jimmy and said, “Let's talk. I’ve heard that flights pass by more quickly if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger.” And little Jimmy, who had just opened a book in the series of “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” closed it slowly and said to the stranger, “What would you like to talk about?”
“How about nuclear power?” the stranger said. And little Jimmy said, “OK, that could be an interesting topic. But let me ask you a question first: A horse, a cow and a deer all eat grass. The same stuff, yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns out a flat patty and a horse produces clumps of dried grass. Why do you suppose that is?”
“How about that,” the stranger said, “I have no idea.”
“Well, then,” little Jimmy said, “how is it that you feel qualified to discuss nuclear power when you don't know shit?” Ba-ding!
And then I might say: In my effort to whip something together for you’s to listen to today, I reflected upon what I wished someone had said to me when I was your age. And what I wished is that someone would had told me that a long lost, distant relative had croaked and left me a hundred million bucks, that’s what. Sadly, I never got that message and I’ll bet a buck two-eighty that none of you ever did either, ’cause otherwise why would you be sitting here today listening to me? If you had a hundred-million bucks, hey, screw school, ain’a?
Then, I might refer back to the Little Jimmy story and say: Sure, you might be walking out of here with some kind of diploma but you don’t know shit, and if you’re smart you’ll want to remind yourself of that each and every day. The smartest thing one of the smartest guys I ever read about said more than 2,000 years ago, “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.” And that’s really all you need to know. Yes, you may learn a lot outside these institutional walls but as long as you know that you don’t know shit, you ought to pass on through the big, wide, world with honors just fine.
And if I haven’t yet been removed from the stage by campus security, I might conclude with this, as always: Finally, I ought to tell you that as you disembark out of this institution of some kind of learning so as to embark upon who-in-the-hell-ever-really-does-know, I’ve always found it wise to regard what we call “life” as one big butt-kicking banquet; and although unfortunately the only thing served at this banquet is crap casserole, I do believe that one can learn to develop a taste for it. Bon appétit and bon voyage ’cause I’m Art Kumbalek and I told you so.