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January 27, 2022
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Humorous

Famous Commencement Addresses, Updated for the Pandemic

DAVID FOSTER WALLACE

There are these two young dolphins swimming along in a relatively pristine canal, in Venice, and they happen to meet an older dolphin, swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?”

And the two young dolphins swim on for a bit, and then, eventually, one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

And the other dolphin goes, “Maybe this stuff that is not cigarette butts or half-eaten pizza crusts is water?”

And the first dolphin goes, “No kidding. I think I quite like water, much as it has taken some getting used to, what with the norm up until now having very much been cigarette butts and half-eaten pizza crusts.”

JOHN F. KENNEDY

Our problems are man-made—therefore, they can be solved by man. Except, of course, for those few but significant problems that were created by pangolins. In which case, I urge each of you to ask yourselves, “What are the pangolins doing to help solve this mess?”

OPRAH WINFREY

Let excellence be your brand. Yes! But, failing that, let Apple—have you seen their stock price? Or Amazon. Or Facebook. In fact, Big Tech generally seems like a safe bet.

GLORIA STEINEM

Whatever you want to do, do it now. For life is time, and time is all there is. Having said that, if what you want to do requires gathering with other people indoors, make sure that there are certain protocols in place. And crack a window. And, actually, are you fully vaccinated? You’re not? In that case, have you considered perhaps doing the thing you want to do after you sort that out? Maybe even postponing it till you’ve received your booster? I’m just spitballing here, but is there a chance that the thing you want to do might actually work better as an e-mail?

TONI MORRISON

But the fact is that the future is not yours for the taking. And it is not whatever you make of it. The future is also what other people make of it, how other people will participate in it and impinge upon your experience of it. How the amateur tap dancer, who lives in the apartment above yours, has taken to practicing his routines at home. How your children, those curious little homeschoolees, suddenly seem intent on embarrassing you mid-Zoom with trick questions about isosceles triangles. How your neighbor, who recently began curing her own meats, has turned your entire floor into a smokehouse.

OPRAH WINFREY

. . . Or you could play the commodities markets. And always diversify; spread your risk around. Some low-yield bonds or blue-chip stocks, some higher-risk investments—say, have you heard about this thing called “crypto”?

GEORGE SAUNDERS

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Or not buying that cottage upstate a couple years back—it’s a close call. Like, yes, I wish I had been kinder in select moments. But I also wish—before this whole pandemic thing started—that I’d snapped up that little slice of seclusion, which was selling for the equivalent of about three months’ Williamsburg rent. I could’ve planted a vegetable garden, built a chicken coop. I could’ve turned the shed into a pottery studio. Look, I’m sorry for any unkind words I may have said—truly, I am. But I think I’m more sorry about the cottage.

AMY POEHLER

Try putting your iPhones down every once in a while. Instead, try looking at people’s faces on your laptop screen, or through a window, or from behind a mask, or from afar.


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