Hold Onto Your Hats, America

Bret Stephens: Hi, Gail. It’s commencement season, though at least a few ceremonies are being canceled on account of all the protests. If you were giving a graduation address, what would you say?

Gail Collins: Well, I’ve given a commencement address or two in my time, but even when things were troubled, I could tell that most of the audience was hoping I’d make them laugh. Just in a way that made them feel it was OK to celebrate their achievements by having a good time with their families and friends.

Bret: Last time I spoke to a graduating class, I tried to compare great arguments to great sex. Not sure how that one went over.

Gail: Wish I had been in the audience for that. Don’t know exactly what I’d say to the current graduates, except that I’d congratulate them for having made it through a time of international turmoil, where both presumptive presidential nominees were almost old enough to be their great-grandfathers.


Bret: I’d urge them to do everything they can to cultivate an inner life, especially since social media is always trying to suck it out of them. Commit great poems to heart, starting with those by Gerard Manley Hopkins and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Recite them aloud on solitary walks. Compose dirty limericks in your head. Read more for pleasure, less for purpose. Read, immediately, Marguerite Yourcenar’s “Memoirs of Hadrian.” Imitate the writers or artists you most admire; you’ll find your own voice and style in all the ways your imitation falls short. Don’t post self-indulgent glam shots of yourself on Instagram, and please stop photographing your damn meals.

Gail: Unless you cooked them — if you’re being creative in the kitchen, it’s like trying to write a poem. Not that I’m any good at either.

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