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So now you’re a Washington State alum: The CougCenter commencement speech

Most commencement speeches are boring, sometimes self-serving affairs for the speaker. Our annual speech to the new graduate of Washington State University is decidedly different.


Ed. Note, 5/1/18: I’ve written different versions of this for the past 5 or so years and I felt like they were getting repetitive. Last year’s was pretty good so here it is again for all the Cougs set to make the big walk this Saturday. Welcome to the family, Class of 2018.


Dr. Kirk Schulz steps to the microphone in Beasley Coliseum

“It is with distinct honor and pleasure that I introduce a man who sat on the floor of this arena seven years ago to hear a speech decidedly more boring and foreboding than the one he’s about to give. We’ve invited him back for many years now and thanks to only mild disappointment on our part and an astoundingly low speaking fee on his, we’re happy he’s here again.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, a member of Washington State University’s Class of 2010, former member of the Dean and President’s Lists for one glorious semester and ... jeez, do I really need to read this last one?”

The speaker nods vigorously

“Sigh ... three time reigning Beerio Kart champion, Michael Preston.”

Tepid applause spreads through the arena

“Thank you Doctor Schulz for that introduction. If anyone would like to chug a beer and lose a race on Frappe Snowland later, give me a call.”

“Ladies and gentlemen ... mothers and fathers ... aunts and uncles ... brothers and sisters ... my fellow Cougs.”

“This is it. In a few more words than that the culmination of years of hard work, enough Red Bulls to worry a cardiologist, and more than a few nights writing papers that turned into mornings. But you did. It was one hell of a struggle at times and I guarantee it was for each and every one of you but you are here.”

“I’ve said this time and time again, but it bears repeating: do not ever let anyone, no matter where you go in life, diminish the importance or the accomplishment of you sitting in front of me today. You are a college graduate, something you should be extraordinarily proud of.”

“Each and every person in this room is proud of you too. They would not be here today enduring me droning on for 10 or so minutes and the unending, seemingly weird traditions of a graduation for just anyone. They are here because not only are they important to you but you are important to them. Going to college isn’t just an individual experience, despite what your incredibly sore wrist after three straight Blue Book essay finals may otherwise tell you. It truly does take a village of support and encouragement to help you get through this chapter in your life and each of these people here provided it in some way. The other end of a tearful phone call home, a pat on the back for grades well earned or, after putting on your best guilt-tripping performance in recent memory, temporary bank account replenisher, they all helped.”

“I will not lie to you: college was difficult but this next chapter in your life will be harder. Mortgages, unexpected bills, job stresses, saving for retirement, saving for your future children’s education at Washington State University. It all piles on, constantly, and without a three week break at Christmas and a $4 wing night because, well, it’ll never be as cheap to drink most anywhere as it is here.”

“There is some good news though! Quite good, in fact. It’s that you chose to continue your education at Washington State University. What makes this place so very unique is precisely what so many ridicule it for: its isolation. For some of you, the bare minimum drive to get home is 90 minutes, and for many, it’s on the other side of a mountain range. I’m not oblivious to the advent of things like Skype or the fancy new device known as the ‘telephone’ but you are, really and truly, as on your own as just about anyone can get while going to school in state.”

“It forces you to become more independent and quickly. You have to put yourself out there; to make friends who are also, in all likelihood, experiencing the very same isolation for the first time in their lives. It’s what helps fuel perhaps the biggest and quickest transformation in you’ll experience in your life. Ask each and every person here to see you today how different you are from the day you left for your freshman year to now and you’d be surprised by the answer.”

“It’s this place; this truly special and unique place that does it all. A place so many people will never understand your love for and that’s okay. They weren’t here for the summer days in the Snake River, the hikes through snow drifts to class, those nervous mornings checking your account balance after a long, long night at The Coug. None of it. But you were.”

“Take from a guy who wishes he could go back to a year before this very moment he had in 2010: you will miss it. Ho boy, will you miss it. You’re lucky to have had the experiences this university and city could provide you for the last four ... or five ... or six ... or going the full Van Wilder for seven years. Those beautiful late summer days when school starts; the Saturdays spent in Martin Stadium whipping up your passion for football; the weekdays you spent getting a drink with friends instead of going to class. The sunsets over glowing fields of wheat. There is, as you quickly learned, a reason why they call it God’s County.”

“Tonight, you’ll likely have a small get together with family. Then, if you’re like me, they’ll have to drag you just short of kicking and screaming out of Valhalla around 1:55 a.m. because, NO, THIS ISN’T OVER UNTIL I SAY IT IS. DIDN’T I MISS A CREDIT SOMEWHERE???? TELL ME I DID!”

“Then tomorrow or sometime next week, you’ll pack your things and go. Pullman won’t fade into your rear view mirror for the last time, I’m sure of that. But this part of your life will ... and there’s no going back.”

“You will, in all likelihood, shed a tear around the turn off for Albion. Then again around Washtucna. Maybe one more time right before you finally fulfill that promise to yourself to finally play the Royal City public golf course. These years are over and life is just about to begin.”

“Thanks to this school, you’re ready. You’re ready because of what you’ve learned both in school and in life through these years. You’re ready because you’re now armed with the experience you need to be successful. You’re ready ... because you’re a Coug.”

“For years, I’ve known one very simple thing about myself that so many of you born in this great state do too: ‘Washington by birth, State by the grace of God’. And I’m so very honored to call each and every one of you a graduate of Washington State University.”

“Thank you and Go Cougs.”