This morning brought gray skies, rain, a conversation with Michael Bérubé, and the opportunity to conclude the college careers of seventy-five Marlboro College students. Every bit of it went well. I mean, the gray skies and rain weren’t distinctly good or bad, but I greatly enjoyed meeting and talking with Michael, and the valediction seemed to meet general approbation.
The only glitch, and we eventually ironed it out, involved the ASL signer, who looked the text of my composition and earnestly asked, “What makes underwear ‘ironic’?” It’s a good question, quite difficult to answer without resort to saying, “Well, you know, wearing it out of a sense of irony.” Eventually I devised a somewhat elaborate explanation of the nature of irony, the motivations for wearing certain sorts of underwear, the difference between naïveté and (alleged) sophistication, and we agred that the whole matter had been cleared up. Not understanding ASL, I have no notion what she signed to the world — but I’m utterly confident that it wasn’t more foolish than the words I spoke audibly.
A Valediction Forbidding Absence
When you were children, we gave you gifts that befit childhood:
organically-grown, natural-finish wood building blocks;
Now, we offer you gifts that befit your greater standing:
in which you will have to make life-changing decisions;
and ironic superhero underwear.
Before we let you go — speaking on behalf of Marlboro College, and especially on behalf of your teachers, we thank you for the gifts you have brought to this community: the gifts of diligent striving, of persistence, of reckless joy, and of boundless promise.
Thank you for trusting us, for working with us, for receiving our wisdom and for answering us from your own.
Thank you for your grace, your energy, your honesty, your loveliness.
And now, I will not send you away; you will go, whether I send you or not.
Instead, I bid you remember that at Marlboro College, you have made a home with Truth. And once you have made a home with the Truth, you can always come home again — wherever you travel, no matter how far your sauntering takes you. Always come back to the Truth, and to this Potash Hill, where Truth makes a home with us.
Valete, alumni alumnaequae!