Berger’s Burg: Graduation - time for good wishes, bad poetry

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It is June and graduations are once again in bloom. They have sprouted (or will soon sprout) in every elementary school, middle school, high school, and college across Queens and all points beyond. For the graduates, it is a relief to know that they have finally completed a phase of their grueling schooling. However, they know they must go through one last rite of passage before they can shout, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, I'm free at last!" - sitting through those imponderable graduation ceremonies.

Do you think it is fun for the graduates to listen to those bombastic lecturers aim complex thoughts (using Latin phrases, no less) at them for what drags on for an eternity? But, it is the price all grads must pay before they can receive their sheepskins.

I remember quite well all four of my own graduations. In kindergarten, we were not permitted to get to the candy and cake table until the final speaker (Miss Goldfarb) finished her lecture. We fidgeted and squirmed as she told us that we must now pick up the mantle from the elders. That meant inheriting all the world's problems - ending wars, finding a cure for cancer, and, in particular, not forgetting to take home our personal belongings from the classroom.

Elementary school graduation was much more fun. I didn't mind the pontificating of the speakers because, as they were busy elucidating saliently, we graduates continued the age-old custom of exchanging autograph books and inscribing our own pearls of wisdom to one another. I fondly remember many of these gems and they always bring tears to my eyes whenever I reflect upon them. See, my eyes are watering already.

My autograph book filled up very quickly with those thought-provoking messages: "You are 2-good 2-be 4-gotten (signed) Sally;" "Roses are red, violets are blue, I saw you kiss Beryl, and she kissed you too. (signed) 'Peeping' Tom;" "Ha! Ha! Ha! It makes me laugh, to sign my own autograph (signed by yours truly); "I wish you luck as you climb the Ladder of Success. (signed) Seymour." "Good, better, best, never let it rest, until the good is better and the better best. (signed) Selma Best." And finally, "You stink (signed) Mary." Jennifer refused to sign my book.

Then I graduated from junior high school. The speakers were much more somber and the autographs much more sophisticated. "Roses are red, violets are blue. I saw you kiss Beryl and the teacher too. (signed) Peeping Tom II;" and "You still stink. (signed) Mary." Jennifer still refused to sign my book.

By the time I graduated from high school, the speakers were, indeed, more refined, and so were the inscriptions. "Roses are red, violets are blue. Why did you kiss Hillary? That's harassment, you know. (signed) Rudy;" "Your pimples are treatable but your personality is not (signed) Jennifer." (She finally agreed to sign my book). Incidentally, I knew why the boys liked Jennifer. She insisted that her picture in the yearbook be a foldout, and it was.

My graduation from college was a washout. I lost my autograph book. The speeches were long and dull. However, before the esteemed guest speaker began her biblical-sized lecture, she looked into the audience and spotted me. She then turned her graduation cap around and threw back the tassels that covered her face and whispered to me. "Roses are red. Violets are blue. Remember me? So what else is new? And, your pimples are still treatable - Your personality not." It was Jennifer, who obviously found her niche in life - tormenting me.

The college president then peppered us with a speech on moral accountability. He warned us about life's evils and to exercise trust-worthy leadership. Good advice. He should also go to Congress to address members of that body on the same subject.

I did enjoy some remarks at other graduations - "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." - Madeline Albright. "Always remember that it is not WHO you know in this world that counts, but WHOM. - Osborn Elliott." "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." - Tony Randall. "And remember this: if you ever think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito." - Anita Rodick. "As you wait eagerly to embrace your future, I read your lips. They say, 'Oh, Lord, make my day - be good, be brief, be gone.' - Bette Bao Lord. And, "While many commencement speakers ask the graduates to look ahead. I ask you to join me in looking ahead ... to retirement." - Bernie West.

Last night I dreamt that I spoke at my commencement. At first, I had to overcome a small case of the "flummoxes." Finally, I regained my composure and swung into action.

I first tested the students' power of reasoning with this rhetorical question: "What should a husband say to his wife after she finds him in a compromising position with her best friend?" I would then pause, look smartly at the audience, and answer that puzzler myself. "He would say, 'Who are you going to believe, dear, me or your own eyes?'" That should get them thinking. Then I would wow them with an Al Capone axiom about snitching: "The tongue has no bones, but it sure can break bones." And, with a sweeping fanfare, I would next dazzle them with: "Hey, wait, Dean, don't push me, I haven't gotten to my big finish yet." I was unceremoniously swept off the stage. Nonetheless, I got to conclude my speech, in the school's loo, before three brooms and a mop. "Roses are red, violets are blue, Never quote me, kids, whatever you do.


Anyway, I want to wish all the grads the very best of luck. Mazel Tov.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at or call 229300, Ext. 139.

Posted 7:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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