In 1999 I finished an associate degree at Portland Community College, and Nancy talked me into doing the commencement ceremony at the old Memorial Coliseum. The speaker was an up-and-coming local politician who condescended to the assembled hoi polloi by donning a red and white stripedy top hat and reading from Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the places you’ll go! (By the way, the stripedy top hat is from a different Dr. Seuss story. Just sayin.)
Today is your day.
You’re off to great places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own, and you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
I think she preceded the reading with a heart-warming story about a woman who overcame her addiction and completed a program at PCC or something. Look, PCC is a community college, not a rehab program. Sure, there are some feel-good stories about people turning their tragic lives around, but primarily it’s working class people of all ages getting a basic post-secondary education. I’m sure she was just trying to be ironic and cute, but I’m not the only one who detected a generous whiff of elitist paternalism.
We’ve joked about this pol’s failure to connect over the years. Whenever her name comes up we say, “Oh, the places you’ll go!” She married the scion of a deeply connected construction baron and later left local government in 2007. Last year she became the head of a local non-profit foundation which we’ve happily supported over the past few years.
When you give money to non-profits, their development staff become your best friends every December thereafter. (I always tell these guys they don’t have to kiss my butt, and politely decline all the perks and galas and wine buses and behind-the-scenes tours offered.)
The other day we got a voice mail message on the home phone, not from the development director, but from my erstwhile commencement speaker herself. Her unctuous tone was markedly different from her speech 15 years ago. She left her cell and office numbers. (I didn’t call her back.)
The places you’ll go.
NOTE: That call left me conflicted like crazy. This has been one of our favorite causes over the years, and I don’t want to cast aspersions on their incredibly valuable work (which is why I’m not using names here; if you know Oregon politics, you already know who I’m talking about). We directed some money their way last year, and we’ll no doubt support them again in the future.