A Graduation Speech


I received an invitation to my 5 year graduate school reunion. What I remember the most about my graduation is the graduation speech and not by some honorary guests, but by a student. I went to school part-time and at the graduation ceremony I hardly knew anyone because the majority of grads were from the full-time program. It was my first graduation in the States and I felt both excited and scared, because I had no idea about – what is next? Back then sitting among 900 graduates I had fear of not finding a job, never mind finding a great job. I still don’t know who that student was, but I remember what he said.

The speech was about some person: after the war he was a graduate student in anthropology and worked as a journalist at the city News Bureau of Chicago, then he worked in public relations and was a technical writer for General Electric, later a volunteer fire-fighter, teacher at the University of Iowa Writer’s workshop, and a manager at the first Saab dealership established in the US…  

I was thinking: “Who could be so scattered and unfocused?” To my amazement, it was my favorite writer Kurt Vonnegut, the author of one of the best American novels of the 20th century “Slaughterhouse Five”.

The speech continued and its main message was to not be afraid of not finding your passion, you just need to try different things and stay true to yourself, and then you will eventually find your calling, as Kurt Vonnegut did by becoming a writer.  That graduation speech gave me hope.  

Kurt Vonnegut passed away 10 months later at the age of 84. He was known for his humanist beliefs and was honorary president of the American Humanist Association.  Vonnegut considered humanism to be a modern-day form of free thought, and advocated it in various writings, speeches and interviews. In 1992, the American Humanist Association named him the Humanist of the Year. In a letter to AHA members, Vonnegut wrote: “I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without expectations of rewards or punishments after I am dead.”

Kurt Vonnegut is my inspiration and his books helped me to stay positive even during difficult times in my life. His contagious black humor and compassion for imperfect humans made my life better. Here are some of my favorite quotes from his books:

“I was a victim of a series of accidents, as we all are”

“I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center”

“If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you’re a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind”

“The bounties of space, of infinite outwardness, were three: empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death”

“When you get right down to it, everybody’s having a perfectly lousy time of it, and I mean everyone. And the hell of it is, nothing seems to help much”

“The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody would be to not be used for anything by anybody. Thank you for using me, even though I didn’t want to be used by anybody”

“I found me a place where I can do good without doing any harm, and I can see I’m doing good, and them I’m doing food for know I’m doing it, and they love me, Unk, as best they can. I found me a home”

“The Earthlings behaved at all times as though there were a big eye in the sky—as though that big eye were ravenous for entertainment”

“New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become”

“A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved”

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