Chris Regan '89 Commencement Address
I’m going to give a speech and then I’m going to answer all your questions about Family Double Dare.
Well, thank you President Rochon, members of the Board of Trustees, and esteemed faculty. Thank you family, proud parents, grandparents, younger siblings who—15 minutes into the ceremony—are already over it. Let us give thanks to the Creator, who decided, “Fine, they’re leaving? Lemme give them one more day of some good Ithacating.”
And lastly, thank you for inviting me here today, Class of 2014. A greater honor, I will never know. Thank you.
I graduated from here 25 years ago. Much has changed in the world in this past quarter of a century. I was thinking about it this morning, over breakfast, as I was furiously writing this speech. Yes, much has changed but not my college study habits. They’ve stayed with me all these years—thank you IC!
Another thing that has not changed is the greatness of this institution, founded in 1892 by W. Grant Egbert, to date the most monumental thing ever achieved by anyone named “Egbert.” How majestic its towers, how green its quads, how weird and spacey its Athletics and Events Center. That’ll be a good place to kick off the Hunger Games.
Everywhere you go, you can see the stamp of the Ithaca College school motto, “Commitment to Excellence.” And I can see that “Commitment to Excellence” in your joint effort, graduates, to keep that ball atop Textor firmly moored in place. Bravo! And bravo to you for having to explain that joke to your parents on the ride home.
But in all seriousness, it’s great to see you again, Ithaca College. And like you, Class of 2014, I learned a great deal here.
In my four years on South Hill, I had the opportunity to grow and flourish throughout this campus, in many of the different schools. I studied in nearly all of them.
- The School of Humanities and Sciences. That is where I obtained my English minor, which began my lifelong love of never finishing Moby Dick.
- The music school. My freshman year I played in one of the symphonic bands. I was a great trumpet player in a small high school and when I got to the big leagues of the Ithaca College School of Music I was taken down a few pegs, all the way to like, 45th chair. When we did concerts I only played one note and I was seated in Dryden. They wanted me nowhere near the festivities.
- The School of Health Sciences and Human Performance. That’s the one with all the sports, right? Yeah, I never went into that one. And really why would I—when I saw how focused and hard working the Physical Therapy students were in my dorm freshman year—I wanted no part of all that! Thank you.
- And let’s not forget the esteemed School of Business. Yeah, I never took classes there either, but there have been many times over the course of my career that I really wish I had. My accountant wishes I’d taken a business class. The guy behind me at the Coinstar machine wishes I’d taken a business class. Seriously, you have a few moments left. Take a business class before you graduate.
I spent most of my time at the world famous Roy H. Park School of Communications. Actually, it was the Dillingham School of Communications then, the Roy H. Park School opened the year after I graduated. So please allow me—on behalf of all the pre-1990 communications students whose tuition dollars helped pay for that. “You’re welcome. Must have been nice.”
I did a little learning in the dorms, too. Freshman year was Holmes Hall. That’s where I learned that it was possible to live in a very small room with two other students, one of whom always used my boom box to play his cassette of the Kiss album “Lick it Up.” Ask your parents about that album. Ask Dad; Mom shouldn’t know about “Lick it Up.” That came out worse than I thought it would. Then I lived in Terrace 11, where I learned that no one would ever visit you all the way up in Terrace 11. I would point it out parents, but it’s obscured by clouds right now. And then the aforementioned Bogart Hall, and that’s where I learned that non-dairy creamer is highly flammable. And if my old RA is at home watching, it was not vandalism, it was science. Science that can be picked up by the bag in the Wegman’s Bulk Foods section.
And of course, I learned a great deal from the faculty here at Ithaca College, many of whom are still teaching here. And if I may, there is one professor I’d like to give a shout out to, and that is a fellow in the Television-Radio Department named Dr. Ben Crane. Now Ben, he’s one of those cool professors. He was an advisor on a comedy television show I worked on here at ICB-TV. It was a show run by students with a lot of energy and ideas but often not a lot of restraint, and Ben was one of the first people that taught me that everything you create should have some kind of moral compass, some standard of decency and thought. And if I have any sort of moral compass left after working in television for as long as I have, I owe it to Dr. Crane.
I have no doubt this college has taught you well. College teaches you many things. This one has taught you guys how to operate a camera, run a business, tell a story, how to help someone overcome a disability, how to lead an orchestra, how to teach others what you’ve learned. But I think the most important thing any college or university teaches you—is who you are.
I, for one, had barely any idea who I was before I came here.
Like many of you, around the age of 17, people started asking me, “Whaddya want to do with the rest of your life,” when very little of my life had been lived.
When I was a teenager, I knew I was going to attend college, but wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do at a college. I liked movies and TV, I loved writing, and listening to comedy albums, I loved history and journalism and I knew that I wanted to do something in that extraordinarily broad area.
And my hopes for the future were just vague enough to totally confuse my high school guidance counselor.
I sat down with him, and I told him all the dreams I had, and I remember him smiling, shaking his head, and saying, “That sounds crazy!” Great thing to say to a kid about his dreams. “You’re crazy.”
But he had an answer. My guidance counselor reached into a file cabinet, and pulled out a very large, shiny book, and handed it to me. The cover of it read something like, “Your Career Aptitude!” and it was a very thick workbook for kids like me who were, you know, “crazy.” He told me to take it home, look it over, and get back to him.
Now the first part of the book was dozens upon dozens of questions, about your interests, strengths, weaknesses etcetera. You answered the questions, and then you tallied your scores, and then using your scores you were assigned a bunch of symbols that best represented your aptitude.
Among the dozens of confusing symbols were a set of eyeglasses, that I assume meant you were headed for academia. Another was a hammer, that perhaps suggested a future as a craftsman of some sort. There was a symbol that featured a pair of hands shaking. Which I assume meant you were perfect for either lawyering or Wal-Mart greeter.
And I answered all the questions, I got my scores and was awarded my symbols. The symbols were on stickers and then you placed them on a card that then tore out. Card in hand, I was now ready for the next several hundred pages of this book, which alphabetically listed careers. You match your symbols to the career and boom—you knew what you were destined for.
And each career listed had 1 to 3 dollar signs which showed how lucrative it would be. It was kind of like a Yelp review, which reviewed your chances of ever being able to support yourself.
I opened the career section at “A,” with my card of symbols and soon found…nothing. Nothing in the ‘A’ section suited me. Not one career. Accountant? No. Actuary—whatever that is—no. Astronaut? I did not have liftoff. Nothing with the word “Advanced” in front of it. Not a great start, so I jumped to the ‘B’s’.
I flipped page after page in the ‘B’ section, and finally hit upon a career for which I was a perfect fit. All my little symbols lined up, very exciting! And the job for which I was most suited was something called “Bowling Alley Technician.”
Now, if anyone here is employed in the bowling trades, I take my hat off to you. It is honest work that brings joy to thousands of Americans every weekend. But I had bowled maybe…twice…in my life by that point. Both times was a kid’s birthday party and I imagine both times I left in tears.
I was totally confused. What on earth did I answer “yes” to in the Q&A portion that made me a suitable candidate for “Bowling Alley Technician?”
- Do you like noise? Yes.
- Do you like nachos made yesterday? Sure!
- What about loaning strangers shoes? Absolutely!
And the description of the duties of a “Bowling Alley Technician” was “pin setting.” You’d have to sit at the end of the lane and you reset the pins after the bowler’s first roll. You know, a job all but eradicated by 1936 invention of the mechanical pin-setting machine.
I had an aptitude, all right—for being totally obsolete.
I put the book away, and I never saw my guidance counselor again.
After the SATS, a brochure from Ithaca College came in the mail. And I saw that this school had a TV station, and a radio station, and film stuff, and degree programs in all those things. And I got very excited, because there was all this stuff about “hands on experience.” And I was never a big classroom guy and that really appealed to me.
So I mentioned Ithaca to my mother and father—there was silence—and the first thing my dad did was he shrugged and he looked at me and said, “Ithaca? That’s up near Horseheads.” Still not sure if that was a yay or a nay. But by the way—if this city ever gets tired of the whole “Ithaca is Gorges” thing, I think that would be a pretty snappy slogan.
But I explained to my folks about all the TV stuff, and the radio station, and film cameras, and that I wanted to learn all that. And do comedy, and maybe act, and like my guidance counselor they noticed a distinct lack of focus.
But they—like all those great folks sitting up in the stands—were supportive.
And I came here, and I learned who I was. And what I loved to do, and what I was decent at, and for the first time ever—here at Ithaca College—I actually became a good student. More importantly, I was thrown into a community of others who had the same “crazy” ideas of what they wanted from their future and that was very comforting. The program here gave me the okay to be who I was and find out what I was good at.
And I have no doubt this school has helped you all discover the very best versions of yourselves.
So that’s my Ithaca College story. There are several thousand great Ithaca College stories in this crowd that the world is eager to hear. Go out there and start sharing them.
Now, this is the point in any commencement speech when a challenge is issued to the graduating class.
Get ready. Fasten your seat belts.
This is an important moment in these speeches, pay attention. You are often challenged to “go forth” and “boldly stride,” “give power to the powerless” and “wrestle all of humanity’s ills to the floor and slap em on the belly.”
But I won’t offer a challenge. I will offer a suggestion. The world will do that time and time again. That is what the world does. The world is kind of a jerk that way.
Instead of a challenge I will offer a suggestion, as someone who has a 25-year head start in this world that is sometimes a jerk. My suggestion is to “go forth” and “boldly stride”—yes—but to make sure, and this is important, to have some fun. Enjoy it. Lighten up. Laugh a little.
Last fall, the United Nations released a study of World Happiness and discovered that the United States ranked 17th. We are right behind Mexico. I’ve been there—a nice place, but a lot of cartels.
We are losing the fun race. How did that happen? We invented the La-Z-Boy, the Hula Hoop, the Hot Pocket. We are built for happiness, but we’re doing something wrong.
No one takes vacations. No one unplugs. Ours has becoming a nation of overwork and under-agreement. If you do relax, you then turn on the TV and see people shouting: shouting while pawning things, shouting while towing things, shouting while baking things, shouting while delivering the news, shouting on the other news network about how the other guy delivered the news wrong.
Hop onto the internet and type in “I love green” and see how long before you are attacked by the Twitter account “@Ilovered.” If this particular speech ever makes it to YouTube I shudder to think what will be in the comments section, although I know it will all be horribly misspelled.
So I’m asking you—Turn it around, Class of 2014. Save America! Do your part to make sure this wonderful nation doesn’t become a nation of sour, unhappy people. See what you can do to make the lives of the people you encounter a tad more pleasant. View anyone you meet first as a friend, and give them five minutes before they become a sworn enemy.
Try and make people laugh. If you can’t do that, find space in your life for something that makes you laugh. It’s not impossible. Greet the many challenges that this world is going to offer you with passion and courage and conviction, yes, but also with some degree of levity.
The Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is credited with having said “You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist.” I think that’s a great statement. Unfortunately, her two bodyguards who assassinated her in a hail of bullets didn’t seem to hear it. Those guys were no fun. But guess what—we don’t remember their names. We remember hers.
You should be happy. Today you stand before us all with two of the greatest gifts anyone can possibly have. A college degree, and time. And fill that time with as much good stuff as you can.
Today is an important milestone in your lives and there will be many more ahead, and they will all be best served when approached with some sense of humor and some charity towards others. All of them: Your first job. Your marriage. The birth of your kids. Your second marriage. That huge promotion. Your retirement when that huge promotion doesn’t go as planned.
And at the end of your big long life, what will you have to show for all this? From these efforts in making this world a little happier? You’ll have a lot more friends. In addition to the ones who are sitting with you today, who I guarantee will stay with you throughout the years. And maybe, just maybe, we will all have a happier country to live in. Maybe not Denmark happy, but I’m sure we can get up to Mexico happy. Come on. Si! Fiesta!
So go out and have some fun, Class of 2014. Congratulations. This college has taught you who you are. And the world wants to meet this person.
I for one am honored to have met all of you today. Thank you, and best of luck.