The Weather

The Shortest Commencement Address

This morning I got an email from my aunt Edie. She’d read the interview I did with my cousin—her son—Silas, about what he, a high school sophomore, wanted to hear from his school’s commencement speaker this coming May. Upon detecting the direction of her email, I was nervous that she was going to tell me I shouldn’t tell her son that being an adult was like being alone and marooned in the Sahara. But instead she was writing to tell me about a noteworthy commencement address.

Here’s the story from Edie:

In 1977, Granny received an honorary degree from Lake Forest College. Hence she, Grampy, Gabby, and Gumpy were invited to a party to meet the graduation speaker, who was Dr. Seuss. Gabby [her mother, my grandmother] had the good fortune of getting to sit next to him, and she asked him what his speech would be about. He said his speech would be about popovers, and that it would be forty-five seconds long.

But Dr. Seuss was being serious. The next day he got up and spoke for a full forty-five seconds, reading a poem called “My Uncle Terwilliger on the Art of Eating Popovers.” Here’s the complete transcript:

My uncle ordered popovers
from the restaurant’s bill of fare.
And, when they were served,
he regarded them
with a penetrating stare…
Then he spoke great Words of Wisdom
as he sat there on that chair:
“To eat these things,” said my uncle,
“you must exercise great care.
You may swallow down what’s solid…
BUT… you must spit out the air!”

And… as you partake of the world’s
bill of fare,
That’s darned good advice to follow.
Do a lot of spitting out the hot air.
And be careful what you swallow.

Tom Dibblee is Trop’s editor. His fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train and his nonfiction has appeared in Pacific Standard, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Point. He lives in Los Angeles.