Photo by Tom Kimmell
Opening Convocation Welcome
I’ll Try to Make it Quick:
A Few Words Before You Begin the Best Four Years of Your Life
by Aaron Shure
September 1 , 2008
Thank you President Celeste. I appreciate all the honors you have bestowed on me, and now, with the powers vested in me as a sitcom writer, I would like to declare you a mocher and a mensch, which means someone who does a lot of great things. Coming from Hollywood, it’s refreshing for me to be able to kiss butt and mean it. It’s been great getting to know you and Jackie. You are a high wattage couple, and unlike many Hollywood couples, you have actually earned your glow by doing things of value. I can tell, being back on campus, that the school is growing and vibrant and there is such an impressive bunch of new students. Thank you for all you have done for CC.
Judy Geneva, thank you for that introduction. That was so impressive and funny and flattering. How well I remember the thrill of seeing you tackling complex philosophical problems in class. Today we got to see you wrestle with the question of why I deserve this honor. It was a heroic effort.
As for Thomas Nagel, the “What’s it Like to be a Bat” guy. I was so clueless in those days. I should have known you don’t cold-call someone who wants to be a bat; you leave him alone in his cave. But I think you and the rest of the faculty at CC are partially to blame, Judy. I thought it was normal for professors to want to talk to students. I didn’t understand how special CC was in that way. I hope you new students take full advantage of that opportunity. Leave the professors on other campuses alone. You have all you need right here. It’s one of the greatest gifts of CC: professors who love to teach. “What it’s like to be a bat?” You know I ended up writing my senior thesis on that guy and sending it to him. I think it was entitled something like: “Thomas Nagel: what is it like to be a jerk?”
I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here, to be back in this building again, to be standing with my fellow honorees, and to see you, the incoming class of 2012. You are about to start such an exciting chapter of your lives. That I get to be here at this moment is an extraordinary honor. And I really feel that honor. Wait, let me just make sure I’m feeling it. Yup, I’m feeling it. I know it’s an honor, not just because the word “honor” is written on the thingy, but because look at what I’m wearing.
I have found in life that the more important an occasion is, the more special it is, the more likely you are to be wearing somebody else’s clothing. So at your graduation, your wedding, when you go to prison, your first rap video, prison again--you probably won’t be wearing your own clothing. And look at this. This isn’t even someone else’s clothing, this is another era’s clothing; that’s how big this is. We’re talking medieval bathrobes. The Middle Ages are not known for the bath but the robe lives on. Look at us up here; we look like the beginning of every Harry Potter movie. So, yes, it will be a magical time for you. Yes, you will come to learn your special powers, thanks to these amazing wizards and witches.
I had so many great professors. Ashley, Timothy Fuller, Bill Hochman, Michael Grace, Hans Krim, Jim and Elaine Yaffe, George Butte, Carol Neel, John Riker, and so many others who all worked together to teach me the most important lesson of my entire college career, which was that I’m not as smart as I think I am. It was worth every penny of tuition. Thank you guys. You don’t know how much time you saved me. I could have wasted my life trying to be profound. You enabled me to focus on other important lessons I had to learn, such as: I’m not as funny as I think I am.
I may have needed to learn that I’m not as smart as I think I am, but I’m sure that most of you have the opposite to learn, that you are much smarter than you realize, that you have much more in you than you think, that you have great power. It is my wish for you that you find that power and, as my good friend Shannon McGee would have me say, use it for good.
The way to discover this power is to find out what you love, as long as what you love is not drugs and alcohol. And the way to find out what you love is to be open. Be open to the idea that you don’t know yet what you love. You’re going to need to get a little random. Defy your image of yourself. Take classes that you’re not sure you’ll be any good at. Make friends that don’t seem like your type. Who knows what you might find, if you cast your net wide.
Look, I’m a guy who writes funny stories. I’m not really here to give you advice as much as to say, “go for it.” But I will say this: in a TV show, the most important element isn’t the writing, it’s the casting. No matter how smart or clever your words are, unless you cast the right person, you don’t have a show. As you can tell from my bio, I didn’t really have a show until I met my wife, Ruth. I was all over the place, doing all sorts of crazy things. I spent a year in New York. Not one date. I called it, “the city that never sleeps with me.” I mean, I snapped a mousetrap on my tongue. Basically, I had no idea how to meet women, but I did kind of invent the type of humor now known as “Jackass.” I was mutilating myself back in the day when Steve O was wearing diapers for real, and not just diapers full of raw chicken while he swims through a piranha tank.
But, once I found my wife, Ruth, once I was ready to find Ruth, my life came together. I didn’t find Ruth at CC, but I did get close to finding what the right relationship would feel like. I did this by having the wrong relationships. Good relationships are built on the bones of bad relationships, as long as you are able to notice that they are the wrong relationships. It’s also important to get the order right. It should go bad relationships, then good relationship, not the other way around.
Not all my relationships at CC were bad. I made some lifelong friends. It was one those friendships that did lead me to Ruth. It was at the wedding of my pal, Dee Baker, here in Shove Chapel. I was the best man, and Ruth was the maid of honor. Finally, I had a show. So, Ruth, none of my success would have been possible without you, but, because of you, it’s also not that important, because yours is the laugh I care about most. And in return she gave me two of the biggest laughs of my life. My kids, Isaac and Sylvie. I am so happy I get to be your father.
I want to thank my father, the real Doctor Shure, who when I told him I was getting this honor said, “What?” I want to thank him for being a devoted and sacrificing father, a dad among dads, a singularly unique and deep thinking individual, a spiritual advisor, who used all his psychiatric skills to get me through my first year of marriage, actually to get Ruth through our first year of marriage. I wrote the episode of “Raymond” in which Ray tapes over Debra’s wedding video. So, we needed all the help we could get.
I want to thank my mother, Fran Shure, for being an open seeker of truth, a woman who really made her life about improving herself. And then actually did it.
I want to thank my sister, Brandi for being a great big sister, and also for being someone I really admire. She has won battles that I couldn’t have even fought. And my wonderful niece, Hannah, who, even if she doesn’t know it yet, is as cool and strong as her mom.
I want to thank Marshall Kean, who I think had a lot to do with my selection, and who said to me, “you are the last thing they have to do before they start their college career.” I think that was his way of saying, “keep it quick.” And I will, I know I’m standing between you and something great.
So you’re about to go up the mountain, I’ve been over the hill, I’m coming back, and I’m saying, “it’s great up there, you’re going to love it.” If it’s anything for you like it was for me, you won’t understand the full value of it for many, many years. It’s taken me these nineteen years to process it. But don’t worry. In the words of the great jazz madman, Miles Davis, “sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” So go out there and play. Play new games, play hard, play safe, play fair. Have fun.