Berger’s Burg

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A mother said, “Get up, son. It’s time for graduation.” He answered, “I don’t want to go. The kids are mean and they threaten me with spitballs.” “You must go.” “Why?” “Because you’re the dean!”

It is June and graduations are in bloom. They have sprouted in kindergartens, elementary schools, middle schools and colleges over the land. Graduates are breathing sighs of relief now that they have completed an important stage of their lives.

I still remember my graduations. In kindergarten, I was not allowed to approach the cake table until the principal finished pontificating about the need for little me to make the world a better place. I must have done a good job because at the conclusion of the ceremony, the world did become a better place: I was given a Mallomar.

Nowadays, when a speaker tells graduates the future is theirs, is that a promise or threat?

My elementary school graduation was a disaster: no Mallomars and the students exchanged those !@#$ autograph books. I remember one pearl of wisdom inscribed in mine: “To Alex – You stink!”

There were no Mallomars either in middle school, but the nuggets of wisdom inscribed were more sophisticated: “To Alex – You still stink!”

Grads, revel in joy today. Start with a plate of spaghetti aglio e olio and end it with a Mallomar.

My college commencement ceremony was also no fun. I had to listen to a speaker rant about my new responsibilities no one mentioned in previous ceremonies. One thought, however, still remains ingrained in me: “A good education enables a graduate to work for someone who has no education at all.” When the ceremony mercifully ended, I ran out and inhaled a box of Mallomars.

Readers, I know you want me to give a personal speech to the grads — and I just happen to have one handy — but please, do not pass around those !@#$ autograph books:

I am pleased and privileged to be here today honoring the class of 2008. Graduation is one of the five milestones in  life. The others are birth, marriage, death and the day you finally pay off your student loan. It is customary for a commencement speaker to be a great and wise person, of which I am, and to offer you sage advice.

I will begin by offering this uplifting piece of advice: When the chips are down, rely on a Mallomar to see you through.

One college kid wrote home, “Dear folks, I have been worried sick because I haven’t heard from you. Please send a check so I’ll know you’re okay.”

It is not by accident that your completion of four intense and rewarding years is called a commencement. It is the beginning of your lives as independent, educated citizens of the country, world and TV remote.

Education is wonderful. It teaches you to worry about things you would not worry about if you had not gone to college.

As I gaze at your sea of shining faces — oh, I see one of you wearing last year’s Spider-Man T-shirt. That is a no-no for college graduates. As I was saying, an ancient philosopher — I think it was Yogi Berra — once said, “Old men dream dreams; young men see visions.”

What lesson can we take from this senior citizen of long ago? His quotation permits all to dream the impossible dream — like Eli Manning and his Giants: winning the Super Bowl.

My college was old-fashioned. You had to raise your hand before you could hit a teacher.

In addition, do not stop thinking about tomorrow, even when you have to visit your mother-in-law. Explore new worlds by traveling through all of Queens’ ethnic communities and boldly go where no one has ever gone before: to Staten Island.

I know you feel a mixture of hope and apprehension, partly because you are not sure how much longer my speech will go on. You ask questions like: “What will the future be like?” “What is the meaning of life?” “Why do we have to sit around in the hot sun listening to a commencement speech?”

Why? I will tell you why. It is the rite of passage to the outside world.

Good luck to all graduates. Your parents must have done something right.

Class of 2008, I know you look to me for wisdom and guidance. So if there is one message to impart to you, it would be this: Go out into the world and prove that your student loan was not a bad investment. Face the future, but never neglect the moment. It is now 10:08 a.m. Daylight Savings Time.

Live it, love it, use it and eat a Mallomar!

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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