22 June 2012

The Last Day of Third Grade

Finally! Today's the last day of school for my girl. The end of third grade isn't actually a graduation, but her grandmother gave her the mortarboard deely boppers, so of course she had to wear them to school. Goofball.

This time of year, there's always a lot of blather about commencement speeches and what messages they send and "everyone is wonderful" (except for the guy at the high school graduation who went viral with the "you are not special" speech. The speaker at my own college graduation - on a beautiful June day 30 years ago - was Maya Angelou. I can't find her address online - but it riffed on her poem "Phenomenal Women".

I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

All anyone remembers about it is the phenomenal part - we are indeed phenomenal, each and every one of us (and you too). Be yourself, be phenomenal. Oddly enough though, when you actually read the poem, it's kind of all about her looks - she's not pretty, yet men are drawn to her, based on some inner light. She's not phenomenal for the things she does, the words she speaks, the life she leads:

It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.

Yes, joy in the feet is a wonderful thing but that's not all there is.

Last month, the commencement address at my alma mater was by Melissa Harris-Perry - Tulane University professor of political science, author, Nation columnist, MSNBC host, and "nerdland" icon.

Her charge to the graduates was far more provocative - and, dare I say, useful - than most:

Be ignorant.
Be silent.
Be thick.

Be ignorant - you do not know everything, and nor should you be expected to.
Be silent - because there are times when one must listen, and thinking before speaking is always a good idea.
Be thick - commitment and sturdiness will stand you in good stead, and besides "Thin women look great in bikinis. Thick women look terrific in history books."

My girl is finding her way, starting to assess her peers, navigating the rocky social straits, losing herself in books, and I'm sure she'll turn out to be a phenomenal woman. But I'm going to add silent, ignorant and thick to the agenda.

9 comments:

Sarah said...

I love Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC almost as much as I love Rachel Maddow -- and Melissa's commencement advice is wonderful.

De said...

Cute outfit! I want.

Bibliomama said...

Last day of third grade for my girl next Thursday. I think that's great advice too. I'm sure at some point I'll be able to think about 'silent' and 'Eve' in the same sentence and not laugh my ass off.

Jeanne said...

It's taken me years to learn how to live with any ignorance and to be more silent, but I love the advice about being thick, which comes much more naturally!

Mayberry said...

That is a phenomenal photo of M!

Rainbow Motel said...

As a mother of sons, I don't have the experience of raising a daughter, but I imagine there are so many proud moments like this one. Kudos to all of you!

shrink on the couch said...

Be thick. I've got that one nailed.

leanne said...

Love the advice from Melissa Harris-Perry. Brilliant. I want those things for my kids, too.

susan said...

That is brilliant. Women's colleges had some great commencement speakers this year. I thought Jane Lynch's speech at Smith was very well-done, too--she talked about the improv concept of saying "yes and" to whatever life throws at you and also the need to harness the awesome power of NO WAY as appropriate. Except when she puts it all together it's more interesting than that.

I read from "Phenomenal Woman" at one of my best friend's wedding receptions, years ago (Jewish tradition to have guests entertain the couple and Politica and I did some poetry reading). This post is bringing back happy memories of that for me.