Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Friday, May 27, 2021

My fellow Eckerd alum Richard (regular readers of this blog know him as “Hunk Oman”) tipped me off to this past Sunday’s commencement address at the old alma mater. It was delivered by none other than Dennis Lehane, Class of 1988.

Lehane is easily EC’s most famous graduate — probably the school’s only famous grad (excluding myself, of course). He’s the author of “Mystic River”, which was adapted into a much-acclaimed movie. Lehane’s often spoken highly of his time on campus, so it’s no surprise that he’d come back to visit.

According to Rich, the commencement remarks got some attending parents hot under the collar, to the point where there was much gesticulating and general huff-and-puffing. I’m guessing these choice passages did the trick:

There is an angry, loud and unfortunately popular contingent in this country that will have you believe empathy and mercy are for cowards. No, callousness and apathy are for cowards; empathy and mercy are the province of the brave. And even though this contingent’s loudest mouths all came from wealth, and the only bootstraps they ever pulled up were made of imported Italian leather, they will have you believe that the future of our country lies in the lack of a helping hand and the striking motion of an angry fist. This contingent has made themselves popular by feeding off our innate need for anger. They offer no solutions with the exception of placing more wealth in the hands of those who don’t need it. (To put it another way, I need another tax break like Brad Pitt needs help with dating.) Meanwhile they assail everything that’s good and intrinsically American and pure in this country - the right to free speech, the right to love whomever you choose, the privilege of helping others less fortunate than you, of educating our children, of ensuring a good life for our elderly, of caring for our sick. They want to privatize education and privatize Medicare and privatize Social Security and privatize you right out of the very things that make this country great. I know another word for “privatize” but I can’t use it because I’m in polite company. Make no mistake about it, these are the same people whose ancestors and ideological compatriots from eighty years ago were against Social Security, workers comp, disability insurance, affordable health care, pensions, the eight hour day, the forty hour week, the weekend, women’s right to vote, blacks’ right to vote, integration, and special benefits for veterans… all the while wrapping themselves in the flag and telling us what America is…

So the next time someone pulls the “libel-by-label” card and trots out tired, stale cliches about “the bleeding hearts,” ask them what they stand for. Not what they stand against. What they stand for. And if all they can come up with is some lame BS about a “family-values” world where the family is white and wealthy and the values are something you decree while driving your Hummer to the golf course, then ask them to please keep driving that Hummer over the Mexican border and out of our country because they, my friends, are un-American, not us. And if you ever think about demanding that someone pull himself up by his bootstraps? Ask yourself if you did. Or did you - maybe - have some help? From your parents? From friends? From this great institution?

I doubt many parentals took the advice on that road trip to Mexico (unless they already had reservations in Cabo). But if such direct language makes them that upset, it probably speaks more clearly to their true nature than anything else can.

Aside from the foregoing, I particularly liked Lehane’s comments on the nature of honor:

Honor isn’t Mother Theresa in Calcutta. That’s sainthood. Honor’s a day-to-to-day thing, a small gut-check. Honor is not doing what’s easy if doing so hurts a single soul. It’s the affirmative answer to one simple question you ask of yourself every day: Did I behave with dignity and respect toward all living things? That is the measure of honor and the measure of a human being.

If you’re cynical, you’ll say, “I wasn’t honorable today because the world was dishonorable toward me and I had to fight back.” Sorry. Wrong answer. The measure of a person lies not in what the world does to him, but rather in how he responds to the world. When someone says, oh-so-jadedly, “The world is thus,” you must reply: “No. Thus, have we made the world.” Put another way, hell is not a pit of fire with horned demons jabbing at you or poor Kenny from South Park. Hell is not, as Sartre said, other people. Hell is you, after you’ve sold off your soul and realized it doesn’t have a twin.

Well crafted. Makes me wish I had met him while we were both campus-dwellers (Lehane graduated the year before I got there as a freshman).

If there really was any unusual amount of discord over these remarks, they weren’t noticable enough to warrant mention in the local paper’s account, which was more focused on the presence of the President of Liberia at the event.

An esteemed novelist and a foreign head of state at little old Eckerd’s graduation party. I don’t think my commencement, a dozen years ago, had that kind of star power.

- Costa Tsiokos, Fri 05/27/2005 08:06:01 PM
Category: Publishing, Celebrity, College Years | Permalink |

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