University of Texas Commencement Speech – 2010

The collective voice of the Internet generation had spoken. Somehow they had conspired, without even speaking, to label my very public meltdown behind that podium as “epic.” Videos were posted. Facebook posts written and Liked. Tweets were sent, but no one read tweets then like they do now.

It spread.

I was a celebrity of sorts.

“Did you see that guy give that speech at that school?”

“Holy shit, this dude fucking bit it!”

“I think he kind of made sense.”

I liked that one. Saw it in the comments section of a HuffPo article. Some even agreed. No one upvoted or starred it. It faded into the oblivion of the millions of haters enjoying my “epic” collapse.

But there was a small but vocal minority that thought I was onto something. Sometimes though, those people aren’t really the ones you want on your side.

No one knew what it was. Exhaustion. Fatigue. Those are the same thing. Perhaps it was the alcohol. Nope. Didn’t drink that day. Drugs? I wish.

A doctor tried his best to explain it. My school insisted I see a doctor. They didn’t want me back in the classroom until someone said that the things I said were not my own words. I sat in the doctor’s office as he looked into my ears. Down my throat. Even up my nose.

Then he warmed the cold metal of his stethoscope before pressing it against my chest to listen to my heart and lungs. But he found nothing to explain. He was dissappointed actually.

He thought there had to be a medical explanation for what I said. It couldn’t be that maybe I believed it. He approached it like any great scientist.

He observed me. Meaning he watched the video on YouTube. His glasses sat on the edge of his nose as he held his iPhone in his hand. He didn’t laugh, which was a relief considering everyone else that I had seen watch the video did.

They were always kind though. They would say things like, “Oh, I don’t mean to laugh. I’m so sorry.” Then they’d turn back to the video and laugh some more.

After the video finished, the doctor formed a hypothesis. He said, and in a German accent no less, “Fatigue is a tricky thing when it comes upon you suddenly. You will be flying high on life and then, all of a sudden. BOOM!”

He clapped his hands. It was very dramatic. I jumped a little.

“You crash. And watching this. I think you were crashing. Tell me more about the days before.”

I tried to think back to the days before. I remember watching TV. I read a couple of reports. Some new data on glacial shifts or something. I remember writing my speech not long after. Going to a movie. I had a date. But it was cancelled at the last minute. You know, all in all, it was a relatively uneventful few days prior. I was almost embarrassed to tell him. He seemed embarrassed to hear it. There was something about his look that said, “Jesus, man. Your life is bullshit.”

I know it is.

“Why did they ask you to give the speech?” he asked me.

“I’m an authority on a few things. I mean I can speak as an authority on a few things. Some call me a futurist. I predict things. The powers that be thought that my clairvoyance, if you will, would inspire these bright young minds. Or something.”

“I see.” He nodded his head. Pondering a new hypothesis to replace fatigue. Which I killed with my boring life. “Did giving the speech make you nervous? Scared?”

I thought about it. I knew he wanted to hear yes. I wanted to say yes. I wanted to have another reason why I said what I said. Something other than because I believe it’s the truth. But yes wouldn’t have been true. So I said no.

It actually angered him when I said no. I don’t know why. I’d only been in his office for about ten minutes. Not long enough for him to be exhausted by me.

I don’t think he was a good doctor.

After him I saw a therapist. Another requirement of my school. It was nice of them actually, to be this patient. But they didn’t want to lose me, despite the outcry.

The therapist was a sweet woman with a mousy voice named Belinda. She was painfully shy. Which I felt was an odd characteristic for a therapist. Our first session she told me about how becoming a therapist helped her get out of her shell.

She explained to me all the hardships she had to overcome to accomplish this feat. She had a very serious form of social anxiety. It was obvious. During the first session she had to take several breaks to compose herself.

At the end of the session she thanked me for listening to her. She confessed to me that I was her first client and this was her first official session. Somehow it made me feel better.

We continued to see each other once a week. I learned a lot about her family. She had two cats that were actually conjoined when they were born. Nothing serious, just a few inches of skin at the hips.

They were dropped off at a no kill shelter. They weren’t siamese cats if that’s what you’re thinking. They weren’t. She made that clear. She said a lot of people made that joke and she found it offensive. I felt bad because it was the first thing that popped into my head.

Once she adopted them, she took them to a vet. They were about 4 months old at the time. It wasn’t much of a surgery. The connection was mainly external tissue. A few cuts and then stitches on each of their little hips and they were ready for the world.

She told me that after the surgery they would continue to walk next to each other. When they sat down, they seemed to make sure that their hips were touching. Although free to live their own lives, they couldn’t imagine being without the other.

It was beautiful to her. The idea that even without an actual physical connection, as in literally attached, they still had to be figuratively attached. I’m not sure if I’m explaining it well. She apparently wrote her graduate thesis on them.

“The Long-term Emotional Effects of Medical Separation on Conjoined Felines.”

That was what the paper was called. It was a popular read amongst veterinarian students and even a small group of clinical psychologists in Bangladesh.

These psychologists even went so far as to invite her out to Bangladesh to give a speech. She was touched but terrified. All of the attention that paper brought upon her became overwhelming.

Her social anxiety became uncontrollable. She had also started to develop some deep rooted feelings of guilt over separating the cats. They were so “connected at the hip” figuratively that she thought she had perhaps destroyed their relationship by literally disconnecting them, although figuratively allow them to stay conjoined.

For a while, she considered having them reattached. But her friend Dev in Bangladesh convinced her not to.

She gave the speech and she never felt more alive, she said. In one of our sessions she even recited it for me. It was amazing to watch this woman come out of her shell. Somehow the idea of imparting wisdom onto others make her less socially awkward. She was empowered by the idea that her experiences could help others.

And so, the speech was perfect. She was a hit.

After about three weeks of talking about her life we started discussing that day. She had never seen the video, so she asked me to reinact it. To give the speech. I told her I didn’t want to.

She told me she couldn’t help me if I didn’t open up. She was offended that she had shared so much with me and I wouldn’t share anything with her.

I felt terrible.

After doing a quick search on Google, I was able to find a transcript of the speech in a Buzzfeed post. So I asked her to read it. To look over it without seeing the video. Just the words. And then, once I felt this was a safe, no judgement zone, I’d open up. I’d talk about it.

So I ask you to do the same. I ask you to read the following transcript with an open heart and mind and tell me your thoughts. Maybe if you believe it too, we can make a change.

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS, COLLEGE OF SCIENCE, COMMENCEMENT SPEECH. May 23rd, 2010.

Thank you, Chancellor. Great hat by the way.

[STEPS TO THE PODIUM. TAKES A DEEP BREATH]

Explorers. Explorers of the air. Explorers of the sea. Explorers of the earth. Take flight. Dive. Dig. You are the future of Mars colonization.

The future of our people is amongst the stars. For billions of years, the universe has been conspiring against us. A domino effect of incident after incident leading to this inevitable moment.

The moment when we must take to our ships and escape the desolation of our planet.

I look out at all of your faces. I see the shock of my revelations. I look behind me and I see the regret of the staff and faculty that chose me for this moment.

I want you to look to them. I want you to thank them for saving your lives because today ladies and gentlemen, I am going to tell you how we can save our species.

Not the planet but our species. The earth is dying and will not live past the turn of the century. The sooner we accept it, the sooner we will be able to move forward. Because, I hate to break it to you, but we only have 90 years to create the vessels that will carry our children into space.

You may be graduating today but your education isn’t over.

First, we must decide who and what we should save. I’ve burned a list into my mind of the most important things on this planet. The things that must be included in our arks if we are to replenish the species.

One, men and women. The ratio must be such that men are outnumbered by women at a ratio of one to eight. Men should be seen simply as sperm donors. We should not be allowed in roles of power disproportionate to our ratio. Too many men leads to war and sexual assault.

With eight women for every man, all men will be sexually satisfied. Again, eliminating a common problem in our society: male aggression.

Two, the seeds of life. This refers not just to our own human seed but to the seeds that are the prelude to crops. We shall create a exhaustive catalog of the earth’s crops. Until Mars is terraformed, our crop options will be limited. We must build greenhouses and other facilities for substantial vegetative growth.

But once terraforming is complete, we can recreate the crops of our ancestors. Corn. Carrots. Squash. Asparagus. All of it.

On Mars.

Three.

Water.

Water.

Water.

There is no water on Mars. We’ll have to bring it. From this day forth, we must conserve water. We must preserve it from consumption by undesirables.

Yes, I said it. Someone has to be brave enough to say that there will be a horde of people that are unable to go on this journey.

BUT they may contribute in more valuable ways. With these.

[HOLDS UP HIS HANDS.]

With these hands, they can build. They can build the ark that will carry the chosen to the New World. For those that can work, they will receive water. For those that are to make the journey, they will receive water. For those that can’t do either, they will be cut off.

We must cull the herd now. The survival of our species depends on it.

Look around you. Make a mental list. You know which of you can be culled. You know which of you are builders. And you know which of you are the chosen.

Show of hands. How many of you believe you would be amongst the chosen.

[ALMOST EVERYONE RAISES THEIR HANDS.]

Wrong. Our arks will only be able to carry two percent of the population. There are 600 of you today. Only twelve of you would make it aboard the ship.

The rest of you will be builders. You’re college graduates. You have your heads on your shoulders. You would have value as a builder.

I’m not knocking it. I’m a builder. I know it. I know my place. The sooner you realize your place, the sooner we can move forward. If there is one thing you must learn today it’s that time is wasted in our refusal to accept reality.

Now, what don’t we need for the survival of our species.

One, culture. Some may argue that art, literature, films, and other trappings of our culture will be the backbone of our future society. It’s a connection to our past. It is the collected examination of where we’ve been and where we’re going.

Well, we don’t need it. Our culture is what has forced us to Mars. Our culture is a breeding ground for complacency. A painting will not save the world. I argue that it has destroyed our world. So all remnants of our culture must stay.

Two, love. No couples or families should be allowed. Only people who are committed to the goal should be allowed. By including families or lovers, we’re starting off our new society with selfish desires. We’ll do anything for someone we love. Well, that’s not what we’ll need in Mars. We need people who will do anything for anyone. We shall remove the cloud of bias by placing everyone on level emotional ground. No one shall be more or less special to someone else. They simply will be.

And so completes my list.

Today I’ve shared some frightening realities with you. Some of you may not want to accept them. You may not want to belive that the world is ending. You may not want to believe that you are destined to build a spaceship that will carry you’re classmates to a new life on Mars without you.

But it’s true. That is your life. So take your diploma and throw it away. Instead go to your garage. Take out your hammers. Take out your nails. And come to the fields where we will build the future. Where we will save the species.

Join me.

[HE TAKES OUT A HAMMER.]

Help me build the future.

[HE SLAMS THE HAMMER AGAINST THE PODIUM. OVER AND OVER UNTIL HE’S TAKEN AWAY]

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I hope I’m wrong and things start to change.