Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You’ll Never Hear, by Carl Hiaasen, illustrated by Roz Chast (2018)


Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You'll Never Hear, by Carl Hiaasen, illustrated by Roz Chast (2018)

It’s graduation season at colleges and universities, so here’s a suggestion for a new grad in your life. A wee book (it’s just 43 pages, about $20 in hardcover), it is a good one to pair with the Seuss classic Oh, The Places You’ll Go, or if you can find it, H. Jackson Brown’s Life’s Little Instruction Book. This offers a gloomier perspective, and comes with couple of f-bombs along with lots of dark humour. Essentially, the message is that the world is going to hell, and you’ll find greater happiness (worth pursuing) by keeping your expectations low. Hiaasen, one of the few great writers for both kids and adults, begins by tearing apart the usual platitudes found in commencement speeches.

On the classic advice to “live each day as if it’s your last,” Hiaasen says, “you won’t accomplish a damn thing…. it’s a blueprint for unemployment, divorce and irrelevance.” Or this bit, which has me singing hallelujah, someone finally said it out loud: “Anyone who tells you the sky’s the limit is blowing smoke up your ass.” Determination will get you far, but if you can’t hit a ball no matter what, baseball should not be your end goal. Instead, he says, find your talent and “uncork it.” Ideally, talent that won’t land you in jail. Good advice! Chast’s cartoonlike black-and-white illustrations add humour, lightening up the criticism of society’s focus on the unimportant and, especially in North America, the growing divisions. And it’s not all doom and gloom: “Here’s all I know about happiness. It’s slippery. It’s unpredictable. It’s a different sensation for everyone. But one thing happiness is not is overrated. When you luck into some, enjoy every minute.” I’m not sure I want to be the person who dims the stars in a new graduate’s eyes, but if you’re okay with it, take a look at this one. My thanks to Grand Forks & District Public Library for including this in its collection.
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