Parents, teachers, guests, administrators, Class of 2003!!


When I found out that I was going to speak at graduation, my first reaction was, I think a natural one—to plagiarize something off of the Internet.  Yet, despite my frantic use of Google, the best speech that I found turned out to be one given by Mussolini in 1931.   Then I found something that seemed inspirational, about believing in yourself and never giving up the fight—but it turned out to be from one of the Pokemon movies. 


All in all my efforts seemed to be getting me nowhere, so I figured I would find some inspirational quotes.  This also backfired—most of the quotes I found were about devouring the apple of life; sucking the nectar out of existence and lots of other disgusting metaphors involving fruit.  I also found that the quotes that appealed to me the most were the dark and cynical ones—for example, Woody Allen says “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.” Actually, my favorite quote was by Homer Simpson, and it was “You couldn't fool your mother on the foolingest day of your life if you had an electrified fooling machine.”  Hilarious yes, but I just couldn’t find a way to work it in.  I also really wanted to mention Mr. T.  “I pity the fool that doesn’t mention Mr. T!”  But that, also would be wildly inappropriate to say in a graduation speech.


After that, I turned on the television and found that the Mets had walked in the winning run against the Yankees.  Curse you Armando Benitez!  Yes—the speech definitely was not going well.


So I asked around and everyone I consulted told me the same thing: “You need to have a theme.  All great speeches are based on some sort of theme.”  Every single person told me this.  Except for my cat—she clawed me in the leg.  She didn’t actually say anything, since cats can’t talk.  A theme?  It sounded dubious.  What sort of theme would be appropriate for this MOST IMPORTANT DAY OF YOUR LIVES—your graduation?   It would have to be a pretty great theme.  I thought maybe I would use an aquatic theme.  I spent a whole day making a giant trident out of cardboard and sewing a satin fishtail when finally it dawned on me that maybe I had misunderstood the whole “theme” thing.


I started to think that maybe I should take this whole speech a bit more seriously.  After all, Class of 2003—you all are going to get out there and change the world.  You’ll be doctors and lawyers and butchers and bakers and maybe some of you will even be candlestick makers. Soon, some of you will take jobs while in college—flipping burgers, answering telephone calls, getting people coffee… You may be upset at these indignities, but when things get really bad, console yourself with this simple thought: “I’m already making more than Polazzo.” 


After you graduate, for many of you, the big bucks are really going to start rolling in.  Some of you are going to get so rich that you will be able to swim though your money like Scrooge McDuck. But no matter how rich you get, just remember this thought:  there is one thing money can never buy, and that is… a dinosaur.  I don’t care what they may say in “Jurassic Park.”


Actually, money is cool and if, in reality, you do get rich, drop by and take me out to dinner at a swanky place, or endow me with a nice trust fund.  But still, never choose a job for the money—you need to actually be happy doing what you do.  I’m a big enough dork that I get up in the morning excited to teach about Chester A. Arthur or the significance of the filibuster; I hope that you wake up in the morning loving what you do.  Actually, that last sentence was a bit of a lie.  I do love teaching, but I don’t really love anything in the morning—except precious, precious sleep.


So now I felt that the speech was going fine, but I started to get a bit worried about “losing the audience.”  A good example of losing your audience is when they charge, enraged, out of their seats and attack you with whatever they have in their laps.  Those programs in your hands can inflict a multitude of painful paper cuts.  So I figured… maybe I had better butter you all up a little bit—compliments are usually a good way to endear yourself to an audience, no?  Here’s a little of what I wrote at first: “Class of 2003, you were a great class.  Can I say that you had class?  That you were a… classy class?  Although at times you were also a sassy class.  Many of you are math/science people, so perhaps I should say that you had a high sass quotient.  Either way, you were unquestionably sassy and classy.”

It’s not hard to see that I was writing this late at night.  Seriously though, there were a lot of fantastic things about you, class of 2003, and I really will miss you.  I’ll miss Fang stopping me in the halls to talk about her excitement over college.  I’ll miss Natalya Berger who looks up every piece of knowledge I don’t know in class and secretly slips it to me the next day.  I’ll miss arguing about Turkey with Stel.  I’ll miss Max Kendrick—I think that Nathaniel put it best when he said that Max was like an old man—except without the wisdom. I’ll miss David Goluskin’s brilliant yet snide grammatical corrections, and I’ll miss Amalia’s cheerful presence in the halls.  I’ll miss Matt Incantalupo quoting James Madison one minute and 50 Cent the next and Matt Katz’s meteoric rise from wearing women’s makeup to helping produce Senior SING!   I’ll miss Ming’s videos and Paul Brandenburg’s excitement to learn.  I’m sure that there’s something that I’ll miss about Danny, Milosh, Max and Brian Schwartz, but I can’t seem to think of it right now…   I’ll miss all the kids in the SU that are graduating; Janet for having the most difficult job on the planet—bossing around a bunch of Stuyvesant students.  I’ll miss Alex Herman; in the insanity of running school dances she was the Rock of Gibraltar.  I’ll miss Alex Pearlman for his financial wizardry and both Kevin and Eva for all their hard work.  I’ll miss all the kids who I took up to Albany; we played this game called "mafia" on the bus-ride back and I was killed immediately—you dirty, lousy punks.   If I had the time, I could come up with something that I would miss about each of you, and the school will definitely not be the same without you.  Also, if I didn’t mention your name in this last section, then I never got the twenty-dollars.  Sorry.


Class of 2003, one of the things that I found most impressive about you was the way that you all pulled together in the clutch.  When you performed SING! 2002, last year as juniors, your performance was…how can I put this politely…the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.   I wasn’t even your advisor, but I was partially traumatized—to this day, all I can remember of your junior SING! is a lot of square dancing and Sanjaya jumping off of the top of the set to keep the scrim from pulling up some giant piece of scenery.   Still, even when you were defeated by Sophfrosh, you didn’t turn on each other… you were gracious losers and you decided to concentrate your efforts and make your Senior SING! unbelievable.  And you know what?  You did it.  But how did you manage to turn it around?  My personal belief is that you collectively realized that, though individually you are all brilliant and wonderful, together you are just totally insane.  The proof of this is the fact that you chose me as your speaker… Anyway, rather than trying to fight your mass insanity, you all embraced it.  You made a SING! that was not only hilarious and won first-place, it was also warm and not nearly as offensive as it could’ve been.  Yes, class of 2003, you truly did rise up like the dust. 


Your artistic endeavors were incredibly inspiring to me, so I decided to end my speech with something artistic of my own.  At first I thought about rapping, but I couldn’t convince Principal Teitel to beat-box for me.   So my thoughts turned to poetry.   Perhaps, I thought,  a haiku might be an austere and appropriate way to bid adieu to the class of 2003?  That thought produced the following poems:  The first one is called “2003”


Two Thousand and Three

Has a ton of syllables.

Not easy haiku.


Hmmph.  Well, I call this one “Sadness.”


As you graduate

You leave Polazzo behind

Now he’s all alone


It was no good—haiku was too limited a form, and I was getting depressed.  Still, the idea of poetry appealed to me.  After much soul searching, I decided to end the speech on an up note—with a ballad.  So, without further ado, here’s the conclusion of Polazzo’s Graduation Speech:  It’s entitled…


The Ballad of the Class of 2003:

When I found out I was a speaker,

I was overwhelmed and thrilled.

But the pressure was on to do a good job

Or be attacked by a mob and killed.


I knew needed advice

Good ideas really were key

I bumped into some of you yesterday

And you said “Polazzo, just make it fun-nee.”


But still I yearned to give more

To show how your grade did shine

Despite your underdog status,

Your SING! was mighty fine.


Seeing J.D as a strawberry

And Gaia with “reverse turrets”

Was just a fabulous spectacle

And truly as good as it gets


As a class you were supreme

Attractive, intelligent, true.

I’m not even going to ask why

You covered the SU with glue.


The thought of all of you leaving

is depressing and also quite sad

I can still see you all as sophomores

when you often drove me quite mad.


It’s hard to believe that you’re leaving

But you’ll go to a far better place

Exploring new subjects in college

Academia’s warm embrace


You’ll make new friends and enemies

And discover new locales

But no matter how active your social life

You’ll not forget Stuyvesant Pals.


I know that last quatrain was cheesy

Sentimental and trite it’s true

But this poem is my only method

To show how much I’ll miss you.