Berger’s Burg: Autograph books get grads through long speeches

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“No more pencils. No more books. No more teachers’ dirty looks,” –the graduating class of 2003.

A graduation is where a commencement speaker tells 1,000 graduates, all dressed the same, that individuality is what makes the world tick!

It is June and graduations are in full bloom. They have sprouted in kindergartens, elementary schools, middle schools and colleges o’er the land. It is a relief for the graduates to finally complete their schooling. But it certainly is not fun to listen to the bombastic commencement speakers who rant about the graduates’ future responsibilities and missions in life.

I still remember all my graduations vividly and clearly. I recall in kindergarten that we could not go to the candy and cake table until the speaker finished lecturing. We all squirmed as she reminded us that we now would be carrying the world’s weight on our small shoulders. I must have been doing something right because, the following day, the world did become a better place for me. My mother gave me a Mallomar.

Elementary school graduation was more fun. I didn’t mind the speakers because, while they were pontificating, the students passed around those ignoble autograph books. I remember, as if it were yesterday, the pearls of wisdom and worldly gems inscribed in mine:

“To Alex: You are 2-good 2-be 4-gotten. Signed, Leo, the class mathematician; To Alex: Roses are red, violets are blue, I saw you kiss Sally, and she kissed you too. Signed, A Peeping Tom.” (Mr. Peeping Tom became a future agent for the CIA.); “To Alex: I wish you luck as you climb the ladder of success. Signed, Sheldon, a future house painter.”

And finally: “To Alex — you stink!” (signed by Brittany, who was a great judge of character and a future magistrate in divorce court). Those were the days, my friend, I thought they’d never end. But alas, they did.

When I graduated from junior high school, the commencement speakers were more somber and the autograph inscriptions more sophisticated: “To Alex: Roses are red, violets are blue, I saw you kiss Sophie and the Para too” (signed by Mr. Peeping Tom, the same guy who became a member of the CIA); and “To Alex: You still stink” (signed by Brittany the magistrate). I won’t quote the others Brittany wrote. This page would turn blue.

By the time I graduated from Stuyvesant High School, all the speakers spoke with British accents and were much more accomplished. And the inscriptions written by my gifted classmates were inspirational: “To Alex: Roses are red, violets are blue, why did you kiss Kim? Sexual harassment, you know” (signed Lester, a future morality lawyer);

“To Alex: Your pimples are treatable but your personality is not” (signed Chaim — a future dermatologist). I was happy to get out of there alive.

My graduation from CCNY was not noteworthy since I had thrown away that worn autograph book, which had died of old age. The speeches were long, windy and dull. The final speaker, at the conclusion of his biblical-sized address, stopped, looked into the audience, spotted me and said: “To Alex: Roses are red, violets are blue, remember me? So what else is new?” It was Mr. Peeping Tom, whose name I still can’t remember.

Since time in memoriam, college graduates across the nation have been besieged with commencement speeches. The grads are warned about life’s evils and reminded to exercise trustworthy leadership.

Here are some of my favorites over the years: “Graduation is one of the five great milestones of life. The others are birth, marriage, death and the day you finally pay off your student loan; As you go out to seek your fortune, your fame and your fulfillment, always remember that it is not who you know in this world that counts. It is ‘whom’;

“I believe I am expected to divulge to you the secrets of life. And the first secret I will divulge is that, beneath this robe, I am naked; Always remember this: If you ever think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.” And, “My advice to you is, don’t count on the lottery.”

Gee, I really wish I had been invited to a graduation ceremony to give a commencement speech. I would have begun by testing the graduates’ reasoning power with this riddle: “What do you get if you feed a chicken chunky peanut butter? Why, a chicken that sticks to the roof of your mouth.” Then I would drink in the wild applause ringing in my ears.

I would continue: “It is June. Congratulations to all you college grads! You’ve now got a diploma and, if you are lucky, a job. In conclusion, as I gaze out at your sea of smiling faces, let me not catch any of you wearing your Winnie the Pooh 1999 t-shirt or your old boyfriend’s tattered pair of Dockers at your first client meeting.

“You are the future so, for heaven’s sake, act futuristic. In addition, always look important. As Al Capone once said, ‘Power perceived is power achieved.’ Now, go out into the world and prove that your student loan was not a bad investment.”

What a stirring speech! Can’t you just picture me at the podium orating next year’s commencement address somewhere? (Universities and two-year colleges, contact me in care of this newspaper.)

I overheard a graduate speaking with his father this morning. The father was carrying the “Want-Ad” pages in his hand. “Good news, Dad,” the grad said. “I found a job. The bad news is that it is the same job you were downsized out of last year.”

Anyway grads, I hope you land the job you desire, except one — mine! Good luck to all of you. You will need it.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 140.

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