19 May

Here’s what I remember about my graduation from Oberlin College thirty years ago. William Goldman, the author of The Princess Bride, was the commencement speaker. Did he tell us that life is pain and anyone who says differently is selling something? He could have, and we would have laughed. But I don’t think he did. The way I remember it, at the end of his address, he fixed us in his gaze, squinted his eyes Miracle Max style, and sent us off with:

“Have Fun Storming the Castle!”princessbride_valerie-miraclemax

How can you top that?

We laughed, and all anxiety about the future evaporated.

On Monday, my daughter will graduate (also from Oberlin). She grew up on The Princess Bride, so I tell her this story because it seems like such a happy way to head out into the world.

But she says, “Mom, The Princess Bride came out in 1987; you graduated in 1985. It doesn’t add up. Are you sure you’re remembering this right?”

OK, so maybe it was like this. William Goldman also wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, you know. It came out in 1969–long before my graduation. Remember that great scene when Paul Newman and Robert Redford are surrounded on all sides and the only way to escape is to jump off a massive cliff? Robert Redford is visibly scared, and he tells Paul Newman that he can’t swim.

And what does Paul Newman do? He laughs. I mean, he really laughs. (And we believe it’s real laughter because he’s Paul Newman.) And then he says (and we believe him because he’s Paul Newman):

“The fall will probably kill you!”

That’s how William Goldman ended his commencement address to all of us standing on the cliff in May of 1985. Scared to jump? Think you can’t swim? No worries, the fall will probably kill you.

And we laughed, and all anxiety about the future evaporated.

That makes a nice story for my daughter, doesn’t it?

But that’s not really what happened either. Actually, what I remember William Goldman telling us had nothing to do with his movies. He told us a story about his graduation from Oberlin in 1952. He told us that after the graduation ceremony was over, a friend who had graduated in 1951 told him to take one last look around Tappan Square, one last look at the painted rocks and the Russian House and Old B and and Wilder Bowl and Mudd; and then this evil friend gleefully said:

“You see those kids on their bikes? They want you to leave. All this belongs to them now, not you. You don’t belong here anymore. Nobody wants you here anymore. There’s no room for you here now and there never will be again. Your time is over.”

In the past four years when I’ve visited my daughter at Oberlin, I’ve felt a bit of that sting. My daughter is one of those kids on their bikes, not me.

I’ll say it flatly: I am not reconciled to being one of the middle-aged parents instead of my 1985 self flying across Tappan Square on a clunker. It still doesn’t feel right. But that which we are, we are, and I remind myself that William Goldman ended his commencement address in 1985 by assuring us that, in fact, his friend was wrong. That Oberlin will always have room for all of us.

That’s what I’ll tell my daughter Anna on Monday: Oberlin will be here for you. Jump.

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 2.05.11 PM









16 Responses to “Jump”

  1. Cyberquill May 19, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

    I’ve seen lazy bloggers before, but this really takes the cake.

    • jenny May 20, 2016 at 6:00 am #

      Hi, CQ! You’re right. Super lazy and taking the cake too.

  2. T E Stazyk May 19, 2016 at 7:33 pm #

    Congratulations! And good to see you back.

    PS–A graduation benediction should also include a warning about ROUS’s!

    • jenny May 20, 2016 at 6:05 am #

      The ROUS! Great thought! Thanks. 🙂

  3. Andreas Kluth May 20, 2016 at 4:28 am #

    I think maybe I was trying to get to Oberlin and forgot the O.
    From here, though, that jumpy advice doesn’t sound so great. I’m looking for lift down. is that too much to ask?
    But man, Newman and Redford sure were slim and handsome.

    • jenny May 20, 2016 at 6:10 am #

      I’ll send the lift up for you, AK. For me, I’d like the long bannister for sliding down with a whoooosh.

  4. Diane Burdin May 20, 2016 at 4:46 pm #

    Jenny, It’s lovely to see a post from you again. Congratulations to Anna on her graduation. Something tells me you’ll both miss Oberlin. It sounds like a very special place.

    The anchorman, Bill Curtis, was the commencement speaker at our college graduation. His remarks were so underwhelming that neither Jim nor I can recollect a word he said.

    • jenny May 20, 2016 at 8:59 pm #

      Hi Diane, It’s so nice to hear from you. In fact, I had an interesting conversation with some of my classmates today about how we all remember something different about that speech. Anna is in great spirits and looking forward to Will’s arrival. Cheers! Thank you for reading.

  5. imagenmots May 20, 2016 at 6:27 pm #

    O my Goddess, nice to see you back…even fleetingly. I guess the young Goddess make you very proud. Blessings for her.

    • jenny May 20, 2016 at 9:00 pm #

      Thank you. It’s a great weekend. Jessye Norman will be the commencement speaker this year!

  6. Dafna O Ronen May 20, 2016 at 11:02 pm #

    1. you have been visiting one hour away from me and i never knew 😦 2. the math doesn’t add up ?! we cannot possibly be this close in age… Miami, Oxford OH ’87. Congratulations to your daughter! next time you come to town (Oberlin) i will be waiting for you!
    we can go see Béla Fleck

    • jenny May 21, 2016 at 6:10 am #

      Hi Dafna! You bet! Nice to hear from you. 🙂

  7. Christopher June 1, 2016 at 3:44 am #

    Mmmmm……….on this year’s May 19th you return from the dead to post a blog about Oberlin. On this very same May 19th Andreas returns almost from the dead to post a blog from Berlin on which you leave a comment also on May 19th. And on May 19th 1962 the now dead Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday Mr President” in Madison Square Garden to the now equally dead JFK who once said “Ich bin ein Berliner”.

    There are more things in Heaven and Earth…………

    • jenny June 1, 2016 at 7:36 am #

      Christopher! I would like to live in a world that is as interesting as you make it sound!

      How are you? (That’s a real question, not a bit of throw-away courtesy.) How the hell are things in your philosophy?

    • jenny June 15, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

      Two weeks later…um, Christopher, how are you? Geez.


  1. R.I.P, William Goldman – The Bookwyrm’s Hoard - November 16, 2018

    […] to Jenny at the Sweat and Sprezzatura blog for preserving those words. I tried to find a full transcript of Goldman’s commencement […]

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