Eric Idle at Whitman College (2014)
President Bridges, faculty, graduating class, parents, yes, students, and the man in the back who’s wondered into the wrong place by mistake. Good morning. My task is a pleasant one. I’m here today because I’m a proud parent of one of the graduating class of 2013, my daughter Lily, congratulations.
And like the other proud parents, I’m kinda anxious to hear what on earth I’m gonna to say. I have been especially asked not to be rude or inappropriate. Which is a bit like inviting a boxer to fight and not asking him to hit anyone. But, I have reassured your president, whose job is at stake, that today’s address is rated MBL, NV, and NN. No bad language, no violence, and definitely no nudity.
I’ve also been asked not to be too long, as I’m sure you’re bursting for a pee. And, to be funny, I do hope I will be funny. But do feel free to laugh sycophantically at anything that sounds even remotely amusing. I hope I can say something that you can take away with you today, as you commence your life. Or as the rest of us know, go down hill from here. This is not so much a commencement as the end of the good bit. After college, it’s a bit like being cast out of paradise. From now on, it’s all debts and taxes, and death and jobs, marriages and divorces, and money problems. It’s a mess out there. And then you have to watch yourself turning into your parents.
Well I’m not gonna say any of that. Obviously, because I think we need today to hear something encouraging. Something, you remember, when other people say, “Oh, we had Steve Jobs.” Or, “We had Oprah.” “We had Obama.” “We had the Pope.” So you don’t feel you have to say, “Oh, we had that twit from Monty Python.”
So I really do want to say something touching and real, but don’t hold your breath. Okay? Because my track record on the touchy-feely stuff is not good. Not just because I’m a professional idiot, but because, as you might have spotted, I’m British. And as you know, we Brits have no emotions. Instead, we have royalty. And they have emotions for us.
We are always very happy for them. Getting married, getting pregnant, getting buried. It’s nice and it stops us having to worry about our own feelings. We stand out in the rain for hours and wave little flags and cheer as they celebrate themselves.
“Hooray. Shall we go inside now?”
“No, no. Let’s stay outside. It’s still raining.”
So the Queen’s ‘rain’ is actually literal in England. And so we do love royalty in England. Now. When I do this. It means I’m being ironic. Now, I’m being genuine. Now I’m being ironic. Sincere. Ironic. Okay. Got it? And I’ve been forced to invent this sign recently as I find that nowadays, nobody gets irony, because we are now living in the post-ironic age. Once George Bush gets a library, irony is dead.
But I don’t want to be controversial today, because I know you Americans are very sensitive. Plus, you have a lot of guns.
And a quick word, on the Second Amendment, which I understand, but I think I can promise you we Brits are not coming back. So you don’t need that many muskets.
Okay. That’s the irony sign. I think you’re gonna find that really helpful in your future life. Now, President Bridges, I’m so sorry. President Bridges kindly blackmailed me into coming today. And showed his perfect understanding of the British by offering me no money, but a chance to dress up in a silly costume. That, for Brits, is irresistible. So thank you President Bridges for the great honor you do me today. My wife is absolutely thrilled she’s finally married to a doctor. And of course, I am thrilled, because I can now prescribe my own medical marijuana.
Actually, I can’t imagine why you asked me. I presume the Kardashians were busy. Now, I’ve called this address, “There’s No Time Like the Pleasant.” And here’s a little poem I wrote to help remind you what I’m trying to say.
Life has a very simple plot.
First you’re here and then you’re not.
So remember life is very short. And life can be very pleasant. So do enjoy it. Just remember, that throughout all of history, and all of the people who ever lived, there’s not one single person, not Shakespeare, not Mozart, not Chaucer, not Einstein, not Hubble, not Jeff who feeds the donkeys, who wouldn’t give up everything they ever achieved in their lifetimes to stand here in your place and be alive here today, right now.
Not one. Well there is one, yes. But a part from Jeff who feeds the donkeys, there’s nobody who wouldn’t gladly change with you today being young and here and alive. I would give all of my money to be you. I’m not going to, because my wife has it. I’m allowed one wife joke, and that’s it. And I agreed because I am a married liberal. I believe in a woman’s right to choose for me.
So, your life is precious. You’ve only got one. Don’t waste it on bad relationships, on bad marriages, on bad jobs, on bad people. Waste it wisely, on what you want to do. But if you’re still playing beer pong in five years from now, you may be on the wrong track.
You are alive at the finest point in mankind’s history, where we now know more about our origins and our planet and our universe, than any preceding generations. Life took over 4 billion years to evolve into year. And you’ve about 70 more years to enjoy it. Billions of years ago, right here, mollusks frolicked. In the grand age of the mollusk, when mollusks ruled the world, as seen on PBS. That was of course in the great period that scientists call the flirtatious. I mean, can you imagine, one mollusk saying to another, “Ooh, love, swim around a bit, you know? In only a few billion years, we’ll all’ve evolved into a graduating class at Whitman.”
No, you can’t imagine that because mollusks can’t speak. Nor are they qualified for Whitman degrees, though they’d probably have more chance of getting a Whitman degree than the Kardashians.
Now there aren’t that many days in life that you can pretty much guarantee you won’t forget. Your first arrest, prison, obviously, first sex, it’s hard to forget that, no matter how hard you try. And graduation day is on of those days that you will remember until you the day forget. So what else are you going to remember about Whitman, apart from beer bong and beer pong.
Well you’ll probably remember the first time you got drunk. Who knew the room would go round and round and around. They don’t say that on the bottle, do they? Warning: the room will go round and round and round. The wineries here in Walla Walla don’t say ‘come to a room going round and round and round’ party. So be careful of that. When a room’s spinning, you’ve pretty much had enough. It’s the same with marriage.
Some bit of advice, never apologise, never explain. That’s what I hear a lot of people say, and I think it’s bollocks. Okay? “Never apologise, never explain,” was said by Henry Ford the Second, when he was caught drunk driving in a car, in California, with a young lady not his wife. She was chorus girl and he was a millionaire. There are still some things money can buy. But under those terms, he never apologised and never explained, is good advice. But I think apologising every now and again is a very good thing to do. It puts you in very high moral position with people you’ve hurt. I’m not suggesting you become like the English and say sorry all the time. Because they don’t mean it. You know? They push you down and go, “Oops, sorry!” And they elbow you aside in shops, but they don’t mean it, the British do not mean sorry.
Her Majesty the Queen was hosting the Nigerian President in London, and they were in a horse and carriage in a parade on their way to a public banquet. Now one of the horses loudly farted. “I’m terribly sorry,” said the Queen. “That’s all right,” said the President, “I thought it was the horse.”
Winston Churchill addressing the kids at his old school, said, “Never, never, never, never, never give up.” And I think that’s really important, don’t give up and don’t be afraid to not know what you’re doing. Uncertainty is the atomic principle on which we are all organised. So why try and beat your own chemistry? It’s okay to uncertain, okay.
The other thing I’d say is begin to learn to trust yourselves. That’s very vital. You know, don’t say, “Oh, I’m sure they’re right, I probably shouldn’t go and invent Apple.” Just stand with yourself. Remember in his lifetime Van Gogh sold only two paintings. I’ve personally sold even fewer. So persevere. And excuse me one second. Argh … This is a very wonderful moment for me, I have to say this:
Someone once said, “America is 300 million people all walking in the same direction, singing ‘I did it my way’ “, actually it was me, I said that. But remember to persevere. Your life is very precious, you’re travelling round a galaxy, you’re not in Walla Walla, you’re on the surface of a planet. Pull back, it helps to put everything in perspective. Okay? Remember you’re a tiny little speck of consciousness in an incredibly expanding and immense and virtually eternal universe, a 190 billion light years across. And that’s just the bit we can see.
So don’t just pursue happiness, catch it. And they may even have a cure for it by then. All right, so other bits of advice. Do see some of the planets, get a little further adrift than Walmart. And don’t stop reading, your brain doesn’t know it’s graduated. Feed it, okay. We proud parents are here to salute you and to give thanks that we no longer have to pay Whitman fees.
But most of us old farts are sadly sentimental to see our little kids all grown up and about to make their way into the world, that’s you Lily. Thank you son Carey for being here. My wife of 36 years Tania. Make us proud Whitmanese, get out there Class of 2013, go and kick some ass.