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Gene Weingarten: Putting the future in black and white terms grads can understand

WASHINGTON — The following is excerpted from my commencement address to the graduating class of my alma mater, the Bronx High School of Science, New York City's most famous academically exclusive public school.

I want to begin by apologizing for some of the many, many cruel things I've written over the years about this school. I was basing those comments on my time here, which was 40 years ago, and I can see right now that Bronx Science has improved enormously since then, particularly in the area of diversity. You're no longer all a bunch of Jewish nerds. Now you're all a bunch of Asian nerds.

And, I'm sorry to use the n-word. If you're like me and my classmates, you are very sensitive to any suggestion that you are anything less than cool and hip and street-savvy playas and thugs who just happen to know, and care, that Planck's constant can be reduced to the equation E = hc/l. Show me the rule that says playas and thugs can't have the soul of constipated teenage accountants.

The other outside criticism we heard all the time, and I'll bet you do, too, was that we were intellectual snobs. And I hope that like me, you all were able to put this in the proper perspective: Who cares what those other people think? They're morons.

This unfortunate myth of our intellectual elitism is not helped by various alumni websites that point out things like this: If the Bronx High School of Science were a country, it would rank seventh in the number of Nobel laureates in physics, just ahead of the Netherlands. This is an impressive fact, and it's true, but you have to be careful. Making that sort of comparison can open up the wrong thematic doors. If Bronx Science were a pair of eyeglasses, its lenses would be as thick as a Rubik's Cube. If Bronx Science were a convenience store, it would sell more calculator batteries than condoms. If Bronx Science were a pair of pants, it would be called "trousers" and be just a little too short, with dorky cuffs and white socks peeking out. If Bronx Science were a sporting event, it would lose 78-2. You see where I am going here. Watch the intellectual arrogance, people.

But don't lose your pride. Let me see a show of hands. How many of you got at least 2100 on your SATs?

(Vast sea of hands)

Now, how many of you have cumulative grade-point averages of at least 3.5?

(Every hand)

Now, how many of you have already had sex?

JUST A JOKE! NO HANDS, PLEASE! Obviously, that's a completely inappropriate question. Besides, I already know the answer. None of you has had sex. (Remember, I WENT to this school.)

Now, I know what you all are all thinking. You are looking at your esteemed commencement speaker, and you are thinking, "Gad, he's a handsome fellow." (Thunderous laughter.)

Okay, it was not that funny.

(Even more thunderous laughter.)

No, seriously, I do know what you are thinking. You are wondering when I am going to get to the obligatory, final boring part of this commencement speech when I tell you three important lessons you need to know as you embark on this great journey called life. I am now going to tell you.

Lesson One: Being a satirist is a great gig. I urge all of you to consider it. You can say anything you want, express any opinion, however outrageous and indefensible, and you will get away with it, because people will think, quote-unquote, Aw, he's just kidding.

Lesson Two: If you ever become a conservative Republican, you are aligning yourself with Satan. Aw, I'm just kidding!

And finally, Lesson Three: Whatever your life's path, whatever choices you make, whether you elect to use your considerable gifts for self-enrichment or for the public good, whether you become a poet or a prelate or a pirate or a pioneer of industry, remember this always: When you're wearing white — no black underpants.

Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. You can chat with him online at noon Tuesday at www.washingtonpost.com.

Gene Weingarten: Putting the future in black and white terms grads can understand 06/26/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 25, 2010 4:25pm]

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