This one is long, but inspirational and has little to do with comics. Enjoy -JG
Commencement Address by Steve Rushin
May 20, 2007
you. Good morning, Father Wild, trustees, faculty and administrators,
my fellow honorees, proud parents and families. And congratulations,
members of the Class of 2007.
That lovely introduction was a kind of way saying I am now out of a job.
know what some of you must be thinking. You're thinking: [ital] I [end
ital] went to Marquette. [ital] I'm [end ital] unemployed. Why aren't
[ital] I [end ital] giving the commencement address? And you have a
When Father Wild asked me to deliver this address,
I thought I would literally be delivering it, to someone more dignified
than I, who would then read it to you. When he mentioned DHL, I said,
"Sure, DHL or UPS, I'll get it there." Then he explained that DHL was a
Doctor of Humane Letters and that I would be getting one. And I
thought, this must be some kind of a clerical error. After all, he is a
But I am grateful beyond words for this honor.
Nineteen years ago, my commencement speaker was the honorable William
H. Rehnquist, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. And
while I don't remember what he said that day, I do vividly recall being
inspired by his example, and I vowed then and there that I too would
pursue a career that allowed me to spend all day in a robe.
so I became a writer. Writing is a solitary existence, hours on end
spent alone in a room. Many days, I have no reason to put on pants.
Today, for instance.
I hope you will not infer a lack of seriousness from my lack of pants.
Another man who seldom wore pants - Gandhi - was asked what he thought
of Western civilization. He replied, "I think it would be a great idea."
to this day, civilization too often remains just that - an elusive
goal, a great idea, one that all of you are now charged with making a
Iraq. The environment. Disease and genocide in
Africa. All of these issues now seem insoluble, just as apartheid and
the Cold War did when I arrived at Marquette. But have faith: By the
time I graduated, they were already becoming memories. I wish I could
claim some causal connection, but alas, no. I did not bring down the
Berlin Wall as my summer job. No, on my summer job, I worked at a Tom
Thumb convenience store and wondered what would become of my life, and
if that life would involve Slurpees. Standing behind the counter in a
red smock, I envied the hot dogs as they rode all day on that little
hot dog Ferris wheel.
But the point remains: You mustn't
think the world's problems can't be solved, and you mustn't think that
you - you, individually - are not the one to solve them. You are.
me: If I stand here today receiving a doctor of letters, you will all
be getting Nobels. As a sophomore, I remember sprinting from the old
Amigo's at 16th and Wells back to my room at Tower with a bagful of
Mexican food when I got caught in a Biblical downpour. The bag -
already translucent with grease - split open and all the food fell into
a filthy puddle in the parking lot of Cobeen, and I stood there staring
forlornly at the nacho chips and chalupas adrift on the water, a
What did I do next? Exactly what all
of you would have done: I gathered it up, brought it to my room, put it
all on my radiator to dry. And then I ate it. For the rest of the year,
my room smelled like 10,000 Taco Bells. Imagine sleeping inside a
rolled up chimichanga or living inside the deep-fryer of a Chi-Chi's
restaurant and you get some idea. It smelled so bad that at the end of
the year, my roommate, driven to madness, committed an act so strange ,
so depraved, so irrational that it still defies belief: He transferred
All of which is to say I am not a person who would presume to advise you on how to solve the world's problems.
Except to repeat that they can be solved and that you are the ones to solve them.
Right now some of you are asking yourself how can I SAVE Western Civ when I slept through Western Civ?
here's a parable on the wonderful unpredictability of life: A few years
ago I played a round of golf with the esteemed governor of my home
state. Jesse The Body Ventura spent most of his adult life as a
professional wrestler - like me, he made an honest if undignified
living in his underwear - and he sometimes supplemented his wrestling
income by working as stage security for concerts. He was one of those
guys in the yellow shirts who throw you off the stage when you try to
At the old Met Center in my hometown of
Bloomington, Minnesota, Ventura worked two Rolling Stones concerts.
Twenty years later, when the Stones were playing in St. Paul, Governor
Ventura invited them to the Governor's mansion. And they accepted. When
the governor mentioned that he twice served as the Stones' bodyguard in
Bloomington, Keith Richards, wearing a silk kimono, stirred to life and
said: "Let me get this straight. You bodyguarded us 20 years ago and
now you're the guv'nor?"
"That's right," Ventura replied.
And Keith Richards shook his head and said, "Flippin' hell. Great country, mate." Only I'm pretty sure he didn't say flippin'.
though Richards was recently in the news for allegedly trying to snort
his father's ashes, I believe he is wise on this count: You still can
be what you want to be in this flippin' great country of ours.
high school, I watched Minnesota Twins games on the TV in my basement
and wrote stories about them on my mother's Royal typewriter and
dreamed that I was writing those stories for Sports Illustrated. Then
I'd throw the stories away in case, God forbid, somebody should read
Three years after I graduated from Marquette, the
Twins won the World Series in Minneapolis and I wrote the cover story
for Sports Illustrated in that same basement. Only now I had 20 million
When my wife, Rebecca, was a little girl, her
mother told her she could be anything she wanted to be when she grew
up. Rebecca said, "I want to play in the NFL." Her mom said, "Well,
anything but that." So Rebecca wrote to Boston Celtics president Red
Auerbach and said she was going to be the first woman to play in the
And guess what? Rebecca went on to win a national
basketball championship in college, won an Olympic gold medal, helped
found the women's National Basketball Association and - best of all -
played one-on-one against BiG Bird on Sesame Street, demonstrating that
there are "two Os in Lobo." Her college jersey now hangs in the
BasketbalL Hall of Fame and her Olympic jersey hangs in the
Smithsonian, right next to Dorothy's ruby slippers from "The Wizard of
Oz." Follow the yellow-brick road, indeed.
question is: What do you want to be? Or, if I may put it more grandly,
what do you want the world to be? Don't tell me. Show me. You're out of
school now: Show-and-tell is over. When your life is graded, show will
count for a lot more than tell.
For my commencement, my
mom and dad drove over from the Twin Cities and stayed in a Howard
Johnson's near here. Three years later, my mother was gone. And soon
after, come to think of it, so was the Howard Johnson's. When my mom
called me in New York in the summer of 1991 to say she was dying, she
said - just before hanging up the phone - "I love you." And I remember
thinking, 'Well, of course you do.'
A few months later, I
flew home for her funeral and my dad met me in the driveway and he
said, "I love you." In both cases, never were three words more
unnecessary. My parents' love was obvious and demonstrated daily. Ours
was not the kind of family who ended every phone conversation with, "I
love you," "I love you, too," "I love you more," "No, I love you more,
don't forget to pick up bread . . ."
If love is blind, it
is certainly entitled to be mute. And in our family it was at the very
least tongue-tied. I didn't need to hear that my parents loved me, for
I saw and felt - still see and feel - my parents' love every day.
doesn't mean they liked me. On graduation day of 1988, my father gave
me a set of soft-sided luggage and what he calls The Golden Handshake,
a ceremonial photo-op, in which he shook my hand in front of Gesu and
absolved himself of any further financial responsibility in my life. He
did it with all my siblings and the message was not a subtle one: Get
the hell out of here. And yet, even then, he hedged his bet. My parents
didn't ship my belongings to New York City until nine months after I
started at Sports Illustrated, just in case I needed to come home.
You want the world to be a more loving place? Easy: Be more loving. My
father didn't know his own father, but he raised five happy children
who are now raising twelve happy children and so he gave 17 people a
better start in life than he had. There is no higher calling in life
than making the world better for one person, and he has done it for 17.
He's made the world a less happy place for a lot of people, too. But I
assure you, every one of those telemarketers had it coming.
said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." I recently saw that
on a bumper sticker in Connecticut. It was on a car belching black
exhaust and consuming gas at three-and-a-half bucks a gallon. But let's
overlook those minor details and concentrate on the sentiment: Be the
Last year, I met a 68-year-old blind man in New
Jersey named Ed Lucas, whose wife left him when their two children were
very young, and Ed raised the boys on his own, taking them to the
movies every Saturday afternoon at the Loews in Jersey City. Every
Saturday, Ed sat there in the dark, listening to the movies. One day,
after an eternity of music, he asked the boys if the movie was ever
gonna start. His son Chris said: "Dad, the movie started an hour ago."
It was the Disney musical "Fantasia."
The blind man taking his kids to the movies is as good a definition of parental love as I have ever heard.
be the change. Don't leave it to our leaders to solve our problems.
I've met our leaders and they're very much like you. Or, more sobering
still, they're very much like me.
A few years ago, I was
at a private party at the NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta when President
Clinton walked into the room. My now-wife had met him on several
occasions and so he greeted her warmly and she introduced me as her
fiancée and President Clinton said to me, "You're getting married.
That's great. If I could just give you one piece of marital advice . .
." And I thought, 'This is fantastic. I'm getting marital advice from
President Clinton.' But he said to have as many kids as we can because
they'll take care of us in our old age, and I took that to heart.
a photographer asked to take a picture and I glommed onto one side of
the president and Rebecca on to the other and the picture was taken.
Then the photographer gestured for me to move out of the frame.
Clinton's Secret Service man, God bless him, said 'Don't worry, that
happens to me all time.' And I assure you, it happens to me all the
time, too. Someone will come up and recognize my 6'4" wife and, I
assume, me and ask if it's all right to take a picture and I smile and
say, "Sure," and just as I'm about to say "Cheese" the guy will hand me
the camera and put his arm around my wife.
One time, I
was asked to stay in the frame. At O'Hare, a man asked to take a
picture of Rebecca and I instinctively stepped out of the frame and he
said, "No, no, you stay in there too, Andre Agassi."
met the current President Bush in the White House. I had just come from
the Kentucky Derby and had red clay from the Churchill Downs track all
over my dress shoes and so I left muddy footprints all over the West
Wing carpeting. It looked like an Arthur Murray dance chart. President
Bush called me "Mr. Sports Illustrated," because he couldn't remember
my name, even though it was on a card in front of me. And he recalled
having just come from Ohio State, where he said he had enjoyed speaking
to the - he couldn't think of the name for all of you - and finally he
said he enjoyed meeting the . . . the . . . "the GRADUATORS." After our
interview, he asked me if I thought Barry Bonds was on steroids.
wrote about all of this. And when I left Sports Illustrated two months
ago, the President - five years after our meeting - sent me a
hand-written letter that I found tied to our mailbox post because the
door to our mailbox doesn't close. The letter began, "Dear Mr. Sports
Illustrated, I read your final column in your literary home of 19
years. Like many who enjoy your work, I'll miss your humor, style and
compassion. Please don't worry about the mud in the West Wing. After a
lot of scrubbing, I have finally cleaned the mess. I enjoyed meeting
you. I wish you all the best in your next venture. Sincerely, George
Bush. P.S., Good luck, STEVE." That is to say, I do too know your name.
those making the history of our age - for better or worse - aren't all
that different from you and me. They take their pants off one leg at a
time and read Sports Illustrated in the bathroom. There is no reason
why you can't make the history of your age.
Had I known
at 21 what I know now about authority and the trappings of power and
what we traditionally think of as "success," I'd have been much less
intimidated about going out there into the so-called real world.
relax. As Marquette graduates you are extraordinarily well-positioned
to make it in this world and to make this world a better place. I
didn't yet realize this when I graduated and immediately moved to New
York City. At LaGuardia airport, a helpful stranger - without my even
asking - silently took my soft-sided luggage off the baggage carousel
and brought it to his car, an unlicensed gypsy cab; when he charged me
40 bucks for a 20 dollar fare into Manhattan I asked if that included
tip and he said - I will never forget this - he said, "A tip would be
On one of my first days in a cubicle at Sports
Illustrated, a co-worker offered to get sandwiches at a deli across the
street and I ordered what I had eaten since first grade: Bologna and
American cheese with mayo on white bread. And my colleagues - many of
whom would become friends - howled with laughter. And I thought, not
for the first time, "What am I doing here? Who do I think I am? I'm an
impostor in this East Coast, establishment, Ivy League world."
I gradually gained confidence. It helped to demystify this world that I
had three roommates from Yale who weren't exactly brain surgeons and
thought Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Milwaukee were pretty much all
the same interchangeable place, which they frequently conflated as
And it helped that I'd sometimes see my
Marquette contemporary Chris Farley in black Chuck Taylor hightops and
zebra-striped Zubaz sweat-pants in the communion line at St. Patrick's
Cathedral, after he'd become a star on Saturday Night Live. And that
was inspiring, to see another Midwesterner from Marquette making his
way in a very public occupation.
He possessed one of the
most attractive qualities a human being can have: He could laugh at
himself. I took myself too seriously when I was your age; I don't
anymore. You'll discover all too quickly - if you haven't already -
that you're not a larger-than-life phenomenon, that life is a
larger-than-YOU phenomenon. My first wedding present was addressed -
not as a joke - to Rebecca and Steve Lobo. I saved the mailing label to
remind me of who I am. If I wore britches, I would never get too big
So I gradually became less worried by what the
world thought of me, and more comfortable, and more confident, in my
place in that world. Who did I think I was, this Midwestern hayseed who
called soda "pop," asked for Wonder bread in a New York deli and had so
much faith in his fellow man that he eagerly surrendered his valuables
to the first person he ever saw at LaGuardia?
I'll tell you who I was, who I am, who we are: We are Marquette.
Don't ever forget it. I know you won't. You've been raised too well and are - it's official now - too well-educated.
week, my wife and I got a new TV and we lay the empty box it came in on
its side in the yard for our two-year-old daughter to play in. Our
daughter, Siobhan, graciously invited me into that box and we lay there
on our stomachs for a long time staring out at our garden. And I got to
Now, one of the many pieces of bad advice
you'll get in life is "Think outside the box." Let me tell you:
Sometimes it pays to think inside a box. And so my daughter and I lay
in that box and gazed out at the dozens upon dozens of tulips my wife
planted in rows last fall. They bloomed this month, tilting ever so
slightly toward the sun. And I thought how remarkable it is that in
nature, life wants to grow towards the light.
looking out at another crop of spring perennials - you graduates; you
graduators - and I see row upon row of you in the sublime beauty of
your youth. And my only wish for you is just that: That you will keep
growing towards the light.
I know you will. Congratulations and thank you all.
I was invited to talk about the gender divide in the
comics, and what it's like to be an XX cartoonist in an XY comics world. No
thanks, Lucas. I'd rather be wedged under a log in Barkeater Lake and left there to ripen. Instead, I'll talk about the changes I've made to my
own comic strip, in part, because of my low testosterone levels.
"Frog Applause" is not a strip about sex (or
anything else, really), but more than once it's been referred to as "Sex
Applause" because of occasional erotic content. I stopped doing erotic
cartoons several weeks ago because of the stalkerly (my word) reaction from
certain readers, publicly (on GoComics) and privately (via email).
Perhaps I'm generalizing, but it seems that when a male
cartoonist does an erotic gag, the focus is on the cartoon... but when a female
cartoonist does a similar gag, the focus switches to the cartoonist. At least
this has been MY experience.
Perhaps I should just be grateful that I haven't been
receiving deranged missives from Johnny Submachine-Gun or Johnny Glynn-Gun.
I don’t have the heart to tell Dewey that Huey Lewis has been dead for years. But I will tell you what’s not dead, and that’s the power of a great comic strip. Right?
This may be one of my favorites in the sales kit. As I did not anticipate the final panel AT ALL. And I'm a huge advocate of surprise as a source of humor. Throw the curveball. Most people look fastball. Throw the curveball.