MARTY RUSSELL: ‘I am commencing to give an address’

By Marty Russell

It’s commencement time again, that glorious day when parents celebrate no longer having to write checks to their kids in colleges and universities and that dreaded day when those same kids realize they will no longer be receiving them.
We normally think of commencement as the beginning of something, as in, “I’m about to commence whacking you upside the head if you don’t behave!” Or, when it comes to college commencements, the beginning of a new phase in a student’s life, like going out into the real world or, better yet, grad school.
But I was having lunch Tuesday with an English professor friend of mine and he asked what I was writing today’s column about.
“Commencement,” I told him, since graduation is this weekend here at Ole Miss and because the headline on my desk calendar yesterday screamed, “College Students To Be Cryogenically Frozen Until Job Market Improves.”
“You know,” my friend began, “most people think of commencement as the beginning of something but it actually comes from the Latin ‘co,’ meaning with, and ‘mencement’ meaning table. In medieval times students sat at the lower tables while the scholars sat at the high table. When they earned their degrees, students were allowed to sit with the scholars at the high table.”
Just goes to show you learn something new every day, namely not to hang out with English professors.
But, regardless of your definition of commencement, one of the unavoidable rites of the ceremony is the commencement address, that too-long speech by someone in authority designed to instruct you in how to sally forth into the real world that awaits you while you’re sweating off 10 pounds in a heavy black robe wondering if your tassel is on the right side or if you forgot to put your tassel on at all.
So allow me to throw my two cents in here and offer some brief advice to you graduates about to embark on your chosen paths in life. Most importantly, heed the words of that great scholar Fox Mulder – trust no one. Not your mama, not your papa, not anyone but yourself.
Listen to that voice in your head – not the one that tells you that aliens have taken over the driver’s license bureau but your own conscience, and certainly not the voices you hear on talk radio.
Learn to think for yourself and do what’s right, that’s why most of us – not all of us unfortunately – come equipped with a conscience.
Do that and I promise you’ll be OK whether you’re sitting at the high table with scholars after graduation or back in your old high chair living at home with your parents again.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at

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