The Working Waterfront

A commencement speech that might have been

Sage and snarky advice from an island graduate

Phil Crossman
Posted 2021-10-21
Last Modified 2021-10-21

This might have been this year’s commencement address, had there been a commencement:

“You and I and many of the others gathered here have a great deal in common. We each finished high school in Vinalhaven and we each have the rest of our lives ahead of us. I hope you’re looking forward to the rest of yours as much as I’m looking forward to the rest of mine.

“Sixty years ago I stood, symbolically, where you are today. I say symbolically because this auditorium was not here. This wonderful new school wasn’t here. None of these teachers were here. Your parents weren’t here or, if they were, they were of little significance.

If anyone had called me and my buddies wholesome we’d have gone to great lengths to prove otherwise.

“For years, beginning around the time I was in school, the town adopted a defensive posture toward many of its young people, and with good reason. We were troublesome, not all of us by any means, but enough to have an impact.

“Our aim was mischief to begin with but that morphed for a few of us into more serious trouble and as time went by the bar kept getting raised or perhaps lowered is a better term, so that in the ‘80s and ‘90s it wasn’t enough for some to begin a high school career just burning a little rubber.

“Of course, trouble here kind of pales when compared with trouble here and there around the world but it was real enough for people who were trying to make a home for themselves and if anyone had called me and my buddies wholesome we’d have gone to great lengths to prove otherwise.

“All of you, an enormously diverse and interesting bunch, have breathed new life into our community, being positive and full of promise. It’s fun having you among us and it’s been a long time since that observation was made so freely.

“Today we are happily riding the wave of passion and excitement that has carried you down over the Net Factory Hill in a rambunctious knot, or into the auditorium to express your unqualified enthusiasm for the achievements of a fellow student, or to the other parts of the world to better understand the true breadth of our humanity, or onto the stage for an unbridled performance, or into an outrageous demonstration of acrobatics in the town parking lot, or into a ball game, or impromptu concert on Main Street. Or it simply carried you for the last dozen years to this special day.

“I believe it’s customary to end a commencement address with some sage advice. Mine is twofold. First, continue to set the bar high for yourselves and for those admiring youngsters who, full of admiration for each of you, are so very plainly following in your footsteps. Set it high for us too. We, the adults, need to be reminded of our own potential.

“Second, try not to use ‘like’ as a conjunctive adverb. Like is a quantifier and qualifier. It diminishes what you have to say, making it seem you are unsure of yourself, that you may not know what you are talking about, or that you lack conviction, are on the fence, or wishy washy.

“At some point down the road you are going to be presented with an opportunity to voice your affection for someone. When that time comes tell him or her ‘I love you,’ not ‘I, like, love you.’ ‘Like’ will dampen the moment and leave your intended wondering how much less than love it is you are trying to imply.

“And while I won’t be remotely surprised if one of you has this opportunity, it will not do to one day hear you respond to the chief justice, ‘I, like, ya know, solemnly swear that I will, like, faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.’ I for one would be, like, bummed to hear that. Like totally.”

Phil Crossman lives on Vinalhaven where he waits by the phone for an invitation to give a commencement address.