Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) gave one of the all-time worst high school commencement speeches, in which he (three times) blamed China for COVID-19, joked about Tiger King for cool-dad cred, and all but called new graduate wimps incapable of withstanding old-school gym-class tasks. His sarcasm is such a downer, it's unreal.
What I find most interesting in his words is the underlying tone — it's horribly poorly delivered, tone-deaf comedy, but the message is loud and clear that science is lame, Big Pharma is your friend and China is the reason we're suffering (not Americans' inability to give up haircuts and parties and Trump's policy of YOLO) ...
Congratulations, graduates — this is a big moment. Not on graduating high school, but on makin' the journey down the stars from your bedroom to the living room and putting on something more formal than sweatpants. Your grandparents are proud of you, we're all proud of you, it took a lot of effort — we wanna recognize your sacrifice.
Congratulations, parents, teachers and coaches — not that there's really any meaningful distinction among those categories anymore at this point. If you're a parent, you're a teacher — thanks a lot, China.
We're all teachers now, and let's be honest, at the start of this, most parents thought we would be visionary math teachers, changing the world. But after about two weeks, we all just decided to default into gym teachers. I'm kidding — my dad was a gym teacher, I'm serious. He used to teach English and Social Studies, but he always aspired to get to gym so he didn't have to put on formal clothes every day and he could wear the same sort of sweats that most of you are wearin' from the bottom half down anyway, but anyway.
I know, Dad, gym is important, if you're watchin', Dad — as if he's watching. My children aren't at his house and like all grandparents, there's no chance he can get Zoom to work without my children there to do it for him.
Graduates, adults don't tell you this, but once or twice a week in real-world life someone's gonna ask you to climb a giant rope. No reason, just: “Climb the rope!” Sure, every now and then the rope is a metaphor, but honestly, most of the time, it's just a big rope and you have to climb it. If you don't get that joke, talk to your mom and dad. Back in the day, when we were a lot fitter than you people are, we used to have to climb ropes all the way up to the ceiling of the gym all the time.
So. Gym teachers, those of you who chose to do it as a calling, and those of you who've been forced into it as a calling, I salute you.
So, here we are. We're in your living room, I'm on a laptop, you're on a couch, because 2020 is a heckuva year. I know I'm not supposed to say this, but you're not missin' out on that much because honestly, nobody, and by “nobody” I mean nobody, remembers anything about their high school graduation. In fact, a lot of us spend a lot of our lives trying to forget as much about high school as we possibly can. You know what I mean — you remember sophomore year. You don't want those memories to be defining for you. And in fact, there are a whole bunch of people who make a whole bunch of money by just trying to help other people forget high school. They're called psychologists. In fact, 95% of all gainfully employed psychologists — and I'm serious, there are dozens of them that are gainfully employed — their job is really just to help people forget high school. And the other 5%, they just research hamsters who got lost in mazes, which — come to think of it — is a lot like high school and that's why we wanna forget it. Those hamsters also need their own psychologists now.
Here's what I'm tryin' to say: There will always be money to be made in psychology. No, that's a joke. Do not — if you're headed to college — do not major in psychology. That part's not a joke.
But like I was saying, nobody remembers their high school graduation — except for you guys. You guys are gonna be the first generation in human history to actually have your high school graduation seared into your memories. [Audible snort] And you're gonna be at your class reunion in 25 or 30 years. I mean, people 30 years outta high school are really old ... by the way, I graduated high school 30 years ago this month, so thanks for rubbin' it in. Um, you're gonna say stuff at your high school, uh, reunion service, ceremonies, “Remember that time that China started a big global pandemic that created the worst public health crisis in over a century and brought the economy to its knees and we had to stay at home and everybody was hoarding toilet paper and we all watched this documentary about some weirdo dude who raised tigers?” Uh, yeah, it'll be pretty hard to forget that.
So, you guys have this silver lining. You're gonna remember your high school graduation — nobody else has ever remembered their high school graduation — you're gonna remember it. You're graduating in your living room and you're having a senator come and talk to you about some dude named Joe Exotic. That's, but that's probably the least weird thing that's happened this last month, because we haven't even started talking about murder hornets yet. That's right — murder hornets. Now, I know what you're thinkin', it's not the murder hornets' fault. If an insect grows up being called a murder hornet, you can't be [surprised] when they actually start ripping the heads offa honey bees. I get it — that's a pretty good point, we all sort of do grow into our names, and, by the way, that's why everybody named Jeremy is the worst. Sorry, Jeremy, not my fault, blame your mom and dad.
Anyway, the murder hornets, they're in Washington state, and they're really bad, but the murder hornets, they aren't even half as bad as the black hole. In case you haven't noticed, or if you haven't been reading — and you should be because you've got time on your hands — scientists just discovered a black hole that's four times the size of our sun, and it's apparently in a system that's visible to the naked eye. Scientists are now gonna classify it as a major, major bummer.
Why am I giving you all this bad news? Well, between the pandemic and the murder hornets and the fact that the Tiger King lady definitely killed her husband and the black hole — that shouldn't be between, that should be among, but among all those things, you're stuck at home for graduation, and that's really not even a Top 100 problem. But, I get it. This isn't the way you wanted today to go down, and, you know — all joking aside — you are graduating in the midst of two crises. We've got a public health crisis, which is real, and many of us know people who've been suffering because of it for the health reasons, and we've got an economic crisis on our hands, and all of us are gonna be navigating that. You're entering the world, you're moving from basically the end of childhood to the start of adulthood at a time when the economy has some pretty ugly prognostication comin'. It's hit our state hard, it's probably hit your family, it's hit our whole country, and nobody knows exactly how we're gonna beat this thing, but you know what? We're Americans, we're Nebraskans, we've got grit, and we're gonna beat this thing. We will bring the economy back, we are gonna beat the virus, we've got five different American pharmaceutical companies doing amazing research to develop a vaccine, we're gonna have to have a serious reckoning with the thugs in China who let this mess spiral outta control by lying about it.
Your generation is gonna have a big calling. You're gonna have to deal with the consequences of all this, and you're entering adulthood during an incredibly disruptive time. But you know what that means? It means the fact that you're gonna need grit and determination and resilience isn't just euphemism, it isn't just rhetoric, it's reality. And here's the good news: You all have the potential to have grit and resilience and determination, and to get through this. That's actually what your late-night study sessions and your early-morning practices gave you, that's what they were about. That's what your parents and teachers tried to instill in you, and that's what makes our state great, and that's what's gonna pull us through this thing — you're gonna pull us through this thing. You're commencing today, what does commencement mean, it's the end of your high school but we call it commencement, which means beginning — why? Because it's the beginning of the set of callings you have from here.
You're gonna do it, you're gonna get it done, we're gonna be proud of you again, and we're proud of you today. Your families and your communities are proud of ya, I'm proud of ya, but you don't really know me, the important thing is your families and your communities are proud of you — get 'er done.