The New Flesh

A very bad commencement speech

Harlan Ichikawa


Congratulations class of 2018! The degrees which you have earned are merely sign posts on the journeys you’ve enabled through years of arduous study. When I graduated, I would never have guessed that I’d become who I am today. A thirty something dad in a middle class community of mostly white people. Just goes to show, you can never predict what life will throw at you.

I must say, when I was first offered the honor of speaking at your graduation ceremony, I did not feel up to the task. Your generation is incredible. You make up the largest collection of interns in the history of mankind. New technologies allow you to stay constantly connected to what you do, making your by far the most accessible workforce in the history of mankind. Lastly, you work hard despite great difficulty, with the largest student loan debt in the history of mankind. I would simply kill myself with a 12-gauge to the head If I were in your position. Despite this debt, your generation boasts the largest population of individuals willing to work for free since the days of indentured servitude. Unemployment is down, interest rates on the T-notes are finally above zero, and to boot we have a generation that is too modest to take the credit. If you wont take credit, then the best I can do is salute you, and sincerely thank you for your service.

Now, more than ever, we need an educated populace. We need people who can turn screws, when all they have are hammers. We need people who can keep trying while flanked by failure on all sides. For our society relies on your being bold, fearless, and willing to fight to realize your ideas, whatever the cost. Do not be afraid of failure! Trust me, society will go on despite your failure. We only need a few of you to succeed. Each of you are darts in the proverbial dart game, where your fearlessness is the sharpness of your needle. So be fearless! Go forth my mighty darts! The law of large numbers will allow the vast majority of you to be complete and utter failures while the economy continues to grow.

The challenges of the future are, as always, novel. Now that we don’t have seasons anymore, we will need to replace our food supply. Now that the job of judges has been semi-automated through mandatory minimum sentencing as well as through machine learning, we will need a new generation of hybrid statistician-lawyers to plead cases. Now that facebook, twitter, and the previous election has questioned the relevance of reality, we need a new generation of (unpaid) philosophers to rewrite the ontological foundation of our society. In short, your generation has its work cut out. This is your test. Can your generation survive the stupidity of the previous? Perhaps this is the test of every generation.

Every generation faces a generational challenge. When I graduated from NYU, it was in the middle of the second Iraq war and the beginning of the great recession. Day after day, hedge funds failed, houses were foreclosed, and the entire financial industry was on the ropes. After some bailouts, and massive foreclosures, we found ourselves in the depths of the recession, with a new economical normal of high unemployment and underemployment (underemployment remains high to this day). Detroit declared bankruptcy. I don’t know where I’m going with this, but I know I was supposed to include something inspirational here about overcoming great difficulties… Anyway, I’m not dead now, so I guess we overcame that challenge. Good for us. Our generation did it, so can yours.

Perhaps I ought to commence the meat of the speech, the anecdotes and stories that form the base of any commencement speech worth its salt. Four years ago I had a child, and he transformed my life. The sleep deprivation was difficult and the best thing I can say about it was that it ended and he sleeps fine now. However, even during that first difficult year, there were moments of serenity. In particular, I remember lying on my back in the grassy fields of Turnham Green, next to my babbling son. I would look at him in the late afternoon glow, and realize that being happy was not so complicated. With this child all it took was a bit of string, or a funny face. When you look at your own child at the right hour, and in the right environment, you get a feeling that all is right with your life, and at some subconscious level you feel as if you are in a world at peace. Clearly this is biology commandeering your judgment, because our world is not at peace. The invisible guiding hand of evolution hardcoded neurological circuitry that is triggered at that moment to override our higher brain functions, and trick us into birthing two, three, or ten.

The human race is a massive pyramid scheme without a manual. The creators died long ago, and the main beneficiaries appear to be wheat, corn, and whatever bacteria are thriving in our sewage system. To maintain our way of life we must continuously feed young blood into the fuel nozzle, so that economic growth coincides with the perpetually optimistic projections of the bond market. As far as we can tell, there are no brakes or emergency exits. So god speed to you all.

Don’t let this speech provoke you into doing something radical, like turning off your cell phone, those days are over, and your employer might need to text message you any minute. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. You’re in debt up to your eyeballs and the newest members of our workforce. Welcome to the monkey house.

My time here is almost up, so perhaps I should stop babbling and leave you with some words of wisdom. I actually don’t have any, so I’ll just quote somebody

Run, rabbit run.
Dig that hole, forget the sun,
And when at last the work is done
Don’t sit down it’s time to dig another one.

For long you live and high you fly
But only if you ride the tide
And balanced on the biggest wave
You race towards an early grave.

  • Pink Floyd, from the song “Breath”, The Dark Side of the Moon

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