Dear Parents and Graduates

Ben Bateman’s graduation speech touches on the usual topics: how far the class has come, how graduating is just the first step in life, and how to escape when you’re kidnapped by a crazed hillbilly.

graduatesI can’t believe we made it here, and I don’t mean that in a wishy-washy sentimental way. Just three weeks ago, I was sitting in the back of a pickup with Sam Quinn and Claire Hay (nod meaningfully to two people in robes) as it drew us slowly across the blood-red backsides of the Mosquahanna Mountains. We rumbled past dried pines and abandoned cars, the air boiling with dust that dried our throats and chafed our hands where the ropes were tightest.

Going through high school is as challenging as being trapped in the back of a sociopathic hillbilly’s truck. You’re not sure how you got there, not sure where you’re going, and the hot, terrified urine of your best friend is pooling under you and soaking through your jeans. Maybe you’ll spend the rest of your life in this backwater hellhole, maybe you’ll escape all the way to a frontwater hellhole, but at this moment you’re faced with a choice: you either let the misanthropic oakie behind the wheel take you home to shuck your skin off into his aging sausage maker, or you find a way to take the wheel for yourself.

Leaving high school for the outside world is a lot like strangling a hillbilly captor. No matter what you’ve been taught you’ll feel unprepared, but with just a little bit of luck, the benefit of surprise, and a sturdy length of rope joining your wrists, you just might make it. Sure, the world may thrash when you first jump on its back — the world only wanted to quietly close the property gate behind its faded 1982 Ford Bronco. No doubt the world’s had a hard life, probably scraped through most days selling or using meth that it stole from a cousin or cousin in-law. In any other circumstance, you might even have some strange, sad sympathy for the world.

But right now it’s you or the world, and as it claws at you, blindly trying to sink it’s ragged nails into your neck, you have to hold on. Ignore its husky cries; you know what it wants to say: “Let me live and things will be different. I won’t knock you out behind the bowling alley and drag you, unconscious, into the bushes. I won’t blanket you with bruises or forget to take my logging equipment out of the truck before I toss you in the bed. I won’t whisper to you again, make promises to specific parts of your body, or sing along to only the most discomfiting Lynyrd Skynyrd verses.”

Remember what the world has done to you, how it burst, violent and growling, from the tepid dark. Remember that the world has told you nothing but lies — lies and truths too terrible to bear. Remember that if you let go, if you still your hands for one moment from its grizzled, welting neck, the world is going to kill you.

So hold on, past the initial jerks and that first, terrible stillness. Hold on past the world’s frantic attempts to unlock its belt knife, past whatever blows the world is able to land on your sunburnt body. When you hear your friends calling from the metaphorical truck, begging you to help them, know that you are doing what you must. If you pause for one moment to reassure them, all is lost. You won’t pant in the roadside thistles wondering if you’ll ever be able to forget this, won’t vomit your own bile into a heavily ripped faux-leather passenger seat, or feel an indescribable chill when you turn the world over to find a name tag reading “Dale.” You’ll just be fucked.

My fellow graduates, don’t be fucked. Stand up, take a deep breath, and strangle the ham thick breath out of whatever hillbilly is holding you down.

Thank you all so much, and drive safe tonight.

(Bow, raise raw hands in acceptance of applause, and politely leave the podium).

Illustration by Hallie Bateman

Ben Bateman is an editor at The Bygone Bureau. He grew up on a mountain in the middle of Nowhere, CA, and his eerily encyclopedic knowledge of nowhere and mountains stultifies critics and other animals. You can email him, follow him on Twitter, and read the rest of his work here.