Daily Archives: August 20, 2008

Patton’s Graduation Speech

First off, I want to thank
the teachers and faculty of Broad Run High School for first considering and then
inviting me to speak here.   It was flattering, I am touched and
humbled, and you have made a grave mistake.

I’m being paid for this,
right?   Oh, wait, there’s some advice, right off the bat – always get
paid.   If you make enough money in this world you can smoke pot all
day and have people killed.

I’m sorry, that was irresponsible.

You
shouldn’t have people killed.

Boom!  Marijuana endorsement eleven
seconds into my speech! Too late to cancel me now! 

It’s dumb-ass
remarks like that which kept me out of the National Honor Society and also made
me insanely wealthy.   If I move to Brazil.

I graduated from
Broad Run High School 21 years ago.   That means, theoretically, I
could be – each and every one of you – your father.    And I’m
speaking especially to the black and Asian students.   

So now I’m going to try to give all of you some advice as if I contained
fatherly wisdom, which I do not.   I contain mostly caffeine, Cheet-o
dust, fear and scotch.

I know most of you worked very hard to get here
today but guess what?   The Universe sent you a pasty goblin to
welcome you into the world.   Were The Greaseman and Arch Campbell not
available?

So, 1987.    That’s when I got my
diploma.   But I want to tell you something that happened the week
before I graduated.   It was life-changing, it was profound, and it
was deeper than I realized at the time.

The week before graduation I
strangled a hobo.   Oh wait, that’s a different story.  
That was college.   I’m speaking at my college later this month. 
I’ve got both speeches here.    Let me sum up the college speech
– always have a gallon of bleach in your trunk.

High school.  
A week before I graduated high school I had dinner, in Leesburg, with a local
banker who was giving me a partial scholarship.  I still don’t understand
why.   Maybe he had me confused with another student, someone who
hadn’t written his AP English paper on comparisons between Jay Gatsby and
Spider-Man.   But, I was getting away with it, and I love money and
food, so double win.

And I remember, I’m sitting at this dinner, with a
bunch of other kids from the other local high schools.   And I’m
trying my pathetic best to look cool and mysterious, because I was 17 and so
into the myth of myself.   Remember, this dinner and this scholarship
was happening to me.

And I figured this banker guy was a nice guy but
hey, I’m the special one at the table.   I had a view of the world,
where I was eternally Bill Murray in Stripes.    I’d be the one
with the quips and insights at this dinner.   This old man in a suit
doesn’t have anything to teach me beyond signing that check.   I’ve
got a cool mullet and a skinny leather tie from Chess King.   And
check out my crazy suspenders with the piano keys on them.   Have you
ever seen Blackadder?   ‘Cuz I’ll recite it.

And then this
banker – clean-shaven, grey suit and vest – you’d never look twice at him on the
street – he told me about The Five Environments.

He leans forward, near
the end of the dinner, and he says to me, “There are Five Environments you can
live in on this planet.   There’s The City.   The
Desert.   The Mountains.   The Plains.   And The
Beach.

You can live in combinations of them.   Maybe a city in
the desert, or in the mountains by the ocean.  Or you could choose just
one.  Out in the plains somewhere, perhaps.

“But you need to get out
there and travel, and figure out where you thrive.  

“Some
places you’ll go to and you’ll feel yourself wither.    Your
brain will fog up, your body won’t respond to your thoughts and desires, and
you’ll feel sad and angry.

“You need to find out which of the Five
Environments are yours.   If you belong by the ocean, then the
mountains will ruin you.   If you’re suited for the blue solitude of
the plains, then the city will be a tight, roaring prison cell that’ll eat you
alive. 

He was right.   I’ve traveled and tested his
theory and he was absolutely right.   There are Five
Environments.   If you find the right combination, or the perfect
singularity, your life will click…into…place.   You will click into
place.

And I remember, so clearly, driving home from that dinner, how
lucky I felt to have met someone who affirmed what I was already planning to do
after high school.   I was going to roam and blitz and blaze my way
all over the planet.

Anywhere but here.   Anywhere but Northern
Virginia.    NoVa.   You know what a “nova”
is?   It’s when a white dwarf star gobbles up so much hydrogen from a
neighboring star it causes a cataclysmic nuclear explosion.   A cosmic
event.   

Well, I was a white dwarf and I was definitely
doing my share of gobbling up material.    But I didn’t feel like
any events in my life were cosmic.   The “nova” I lived in was a rural
coma sprinkled with chunks of strip mall numbness.    I had two
stable, loving parents, a sane and wise little brother and I was living in
Sugarland Run, whose motto is, “Ooooh!   A bee!    Shut
the door!”

I wanted to explode.   I devoured books and movies
and music and anything that would kick open windows to other worlds real or
imagined.   Sugarland Run, and Sterling and Ashburn and Northern
Virginia were, for me, a sprawling batter’s box before real experience
began.

And I followed that banker’s advice.   I had to get
college out of the way but once I got my paper I lit out hard.

Oh this
world.   Ladies and gentlemen, this world rocks and it never lets
up.

I’ve seen endless daylight and darkness in Alaska.   I’ve
swum in volcanic craters in Hawaii and saw the mystical green flash when the sun
sinks behind the Pacific.   I got ripped on absinthe in Prague and
watched the sun rise over the synagogue where the Golem is supposedly locked in
the attic.   I stood under the creepy shadow of Christchurch
Spitafields, in London’s East End, and sank a pint next door at The Ten Bells,
where two of Jack the Ripper’s victims were last seen drinking.   I’ve
fed gulls at the harbor in Galway, Ireland.   I’ve done impromptu
Bloomsday tours of Dublin.

I cried my eyes out on the third floor of the
Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, all those paintings that Vincent and his circle
have to each other as gifts because they were all broke some cold Christmas long
ago.  I’ve eaten crocodile in the Laneways of Melbourne Australia and
ortolans on the Left Bank of Paris, France.

I’ve been to
Canada.

I’ve been to every state in this country.   I’ve been
to hidden, subterranean restaurants in New York with the guys from Anthrax and
eaten at L.A. taquieras with “Weird” Al Yankovic.   I held the guitar
that Hendrix torched at Monterey Pop and watched Woodstock ’99 burn to the
ground.   I’ve lingered at the corner of Bush and Stockton in San
Francisco where Miles Archer took a bullet in The Maltese Falcon, and brooded
over the grave of H.P. Lovecraft in Providence, R.I.    I’ve hung
out with Donny Osmond and Jim Goad, Suge Knight and Aimee Mann, Bill Hicks and
Don Rickles.

I’ve done stand-up comedy in laundromats, soup kitchens and
frat houses, and onstage at Lollapalooza and Coachella.   I’ve toured
with bands, been to the Oscars and the Superbowl, and been killed in movies by
vampires, forest fires and air-to-air missiles.

And I missed the banker’s
lesson.   100%, I completely missed it.

In my defense, he
didn’t even know he was teaching it.

Telling me about the 5 Environments
and urging me to travel?   That was advice.    It
wasn’t a lesson.   Advice is everywhere in this world.  
Your friends, family, teachers and strangers are all happy to give it.

A
lesson is yours and yours alone.   Some of them take years to
recognize and utilize. 

My lesson was this – experience, and reward
and glory are meaningless unless you’re open and present with the people you
share them with in the moment. 

Let me go back to that dinner, 21
years ago.   There I was, shut off from this wise, amazing old
man.   Then he zaps me with one of the top 5 pieces of information
I’ve ever received in this life, and all I was thankful for was how it benefited
me.

I completely ignored the deeper lesson which is do not judge, and get
outside yourself, and realize that everyone and everything has its own story,
and something to teach you, and that they’re also trying – consciously or
unconsciously – to learn and grow from you and everything else around
them.   And they’re trying with the same passion and hunger and
confusion that I was feeling – no matter where they were in their lives, no
matter how old or how young.

I’m not saying that you guys shouldn’t go
out there and see and do everything there is to see and do.  
Go.   As fast as you can.    I don’t know how much
longer this world has got, to be honest.

All of you have been given a
harsh gift.  It’s the same gift the graduating class of 1917, and 1938, and
1968 and now you guys got – the chance to enter adulthood when the world teeters
on the rim of the sphincter of oblivion.    You’re jumping into
the deep end.   You have no choice but to be exceptional.

But
please don’t mistake miles traveled, and money earned, and fame accumulated for
who you are.   

Because now I understand how the
miraculous, horrifying and memorable lurk everywhere.    But
they’re hidden to the kind of person I was when I graduated high
school.   And now – and it’s because of my traveling and living and
some pretty profound mistakes along the way – they’re all laid open to
me.   They’re mine for the feasting.    In the Sistine
Chapel and in a Taco Bell.   In Bach’s Goldberg Variations and in the
half-heard brain dead chatter of a woman on her cell phone behind me on an
airplane. In Baghdad, Berlin and Sterling, Virginia. 

I think now
about the amazing thunderstorms in the summer evenings.   And how –
late at night, during a blizzard, you can stand outside and hear the collective,
thumping murmur of a million snowflakes hitting the earth, like you’re inside a
sleeping god’s thoughts.  

I think of the zombie movies I shot
back in the gnarled, grey woods and the sad, suburban punks I waited on at Waxie
Maxie’s.   I think of the disastrous redneck weddings I deejay’d for
when I was working for Sounds Unlimited and the Lego spaceships my friends and I
would build after seeing Star Wars.    

I think
about my dad, and how he consoled me when I’d first moved to L.A. and called
him, saying I was going into therapy for depression, and how ashamed I
was.  And he laughed and said, “What the hell’s to be ashamed of?” 
And I said, “Man, you got your leg machine-gunned in Vietnam.  You never
went to therapy.  Humphrey Bogart never went to therapy.”  And my dad
said, “Yeah, but Bogie smoked three cartons of cigarettes a day.”  
And how my mom came down to the kitchen when I was studying for my trig final,
at 2 o’clock in the morning, and said, “Haven’t you already been accepted to
college?”  And I said, “Yeah, but this test is really going to be
hard.”  And she asked, “What’s the test for again?”  And I said,
“Calculus” and she closed my notebook and said, “You’ll never use this. 
Ever.  Go to bed or watch a movie.”   And how when I got my first
ever acting gig, on Seinfeld, my brother sent me a postcard of Minnie Pearl, and
he wrote on it, “Never forget, you and her are in the same profession.”

I
didn’t realize how all of these places and people and events were just as
crucial in shaping me as anything I roamed to the corners of the Earth to
see.   And they’ve shaped you, and will shape you, whether you realize
it now or later.   All of you are richer and wiser than you
know. 

So I will leave you with some final advice.  
You’ll decide later if this was a lesson.   And if you realize there
was no lesson in any of this, then that was a lesson.  

But
I’d like all of you to enter this world, and your exploration of the Five
Environments, better armed then I was.   And without a
mullet.   Which I see you’re all way ahead of me on.

First
off:  Reputation, Posterity and Cool are traps.   They’ll drain
the life from your life.   Reputation, Posterity and Cool =
Fear.  

Let me put that another way.   Bob Hope once
said, “When I was twenty, I worried what everything thought of
me.    When I turned forty, I didn’t care what anyone thought of
me.   And then I made it to sixty, and I realized no one was ever
thinking of me.”    And then he pooed his pants, but that didn’t
make what he said any less profound.

Secondly:   The path is
made by walking.    And when you’re walking that path, you choose
how things affect you.  You always have that freedom, no matter how much
your liberty it curtailed.   You…get to choose…how things affect
you.

And lastly, and I guarantee this.   It’s the one thing I
know ’cause I’ve experienced it:

There Is No Them.   

I’m going to get out of your way now.    Get out
there.   Let’s see which one of you is up here in twenty
years.    If you’re lacking confidence, remember – I wouldn’t
have picked me.

 

{Patton
Oswalt
}

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