Thursday, May 12, 2011


(A different version of this entry was posted a day or so ago and then mysteriously vanished in the internet abyss. I apologize to those readers who commented and sent their well wishes. Wish I could respond but the comments vanished, too.)

This is easily one of the most stressful moments of my life. As I’ve whined about before: I have no money, no job, and no health insurance. My magazine pitches are being rejected, no one wants to buy my van, and I’m no closer to signing a book deal today than I was a year ago.

Tomorrow, my parents are flying into Durham. They’ll rent a car, drive here to David’s, and drive me back to Durham for graduation.

They were eager to come because—to make things so much more stressful—I will be the “student speaker” at my department’s ceremony.

I rank public speaking up there with my most glaring weaknesses. My mind is slow and deliberative, not fast and witty—it’s good for essays and emails; not speeches and sermons.

I’m absolutely terrified of talking in front of large groups of people, so much that I wonder if I'm better off just jumping off a cliff to spare me the misery. I’d say public speaking ranks up there with encountering a grizzly bear and approaching a pretty girl--events that make my heart feel like it will explode.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been working on the speech, but I’m still nowhere near done. All day, every day, I’m beset with visions of worst-case scenarios and nightmares of theatrical performances in which I don’t know my role or lines.

I had to spend $57 on my graduation gown, hood, and cap. You can understand how hard it was to divvy up that money for someone as frugal as me for something as useless as a gown that I’ll never use again. For a moment, I thought about showing up at the ceremony in my regular clothes. As a self-proclaimed anti-conformist and cheap-son-of-a-bitch, I thought it would be a fitting statement—a bold way to end my van experiment: disobeying yet another silly and obscenely expensive ritual. Yet showing up draped in my denim amidst a flock of cap-and-gowned grads would be more trauma than I can handle at this point.

I tried the gown on last night was aghast when I realized it didn’t have any holes for my hands. How am I going to turn the pages of my speech?!?! I was about to frantically slice some holes in the sleeves with a razor blade, but I decided to frantically email someone who runs the liberal studies department instead:

Please forgive another potentially boneheaded question, but you're the first person I thought to ask. Today I tried on my graduation apparel, and was baffled to see that the sleeves have no holes for my hands. That can't be right, can it??? How am I supposed to turn the pages of my speech!? :) I showed the gown to my friend, and he's equally baffled. Any thoughts?

She responded:

Hey Ken,

LOL....don't worry - this question comes up every year. If you'll look closely at the seams along the side of the sleeves, you'll see a slit in each sleeve. A part of the sleeve (the pointed end) sort of dangles from your arm which makes for a strange look but, alas, is the customary "master's robe"! :-)

Well, at least I got that figured out.


Unknown said...

What a bizarre robe! It looks like the grim reaper!
On the upside, I'm sure your speech will be brilliant. If it's honest, it has to be. At least you get to write it first, so maybe some of that will make up for poor public speaking skills... The words will be there, they just might not come out as eloquently spoken as they would written, but I still think it'll be pretty good.
Good luck, and happy graduation ;)

kenavo said...

Try to feel yourself less important, you are just one of the many guys who speaks some words for an audience, who is not listening anyway....
Sorry, but I hope it helps you to limit the stress!
Maybe you can enjoy the ceremony, after all those years of hard working?
Your parents will be so proud of you!

Cheyenne Rose said...

Wow, wait a minute, are you graduating magna cum laude or valedictorian of your department? Go Kenny Boy! Break a leg, Dude.
Try picturing your audience naked. Oh wait, your parents will be in the crowd. Doh! :)

mOOm said...

They're pockets for students to put coins in as payment for your lectures as a teacher.

Tim said...

Ken, you'll do great! I'm looking forward to attending and hearing your speech. It'll be my 3rd departmental ceremony of the day (for work). Go Duke!

Bob said...

Hi Ken. Just take something from your blog and read it, If that won't work, then imagine everyone naked. It helps. Also speak to the pretty girls, and ignore everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Also, don't lose too much sleep.. take your naps ;)

spare said...

Havent visited this blog in a few months

But happy graduation!

Spare Tire
Your reader from Asia

Rita said...

I am an extreme introvert. I went to kindergarten and didnt talk to my teacher or classmates. I had a corner that I stuck to by myself at recess.

I went to college and took a speech class. It helped with knowing how to talk, how to pause, project, pause and make eye contact with the audience.

I had a job as a Montessori preschool teacher and had a contract that stated that I had to give 4 public speeches a year on the Montessori method.

I found, in those early days, that a well written speech, a rehearsed a few times served me well. But like anything, the more I spoke, the more comfortable I became. I knew my topic well and some of the questions that would come after the speech were repeated after every talk I gave.

Now, after years and years of doing so, speaking in public doesn't bother me at all.

I am still an extreme introvert.

Meve said...

Maybe you should look into Americorps or the Vista program. The pay is low, but you get health insurance and a educational/cash lump sum at the end of one's service.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken, did you ever give a listen to the Alan Jackson Super Hits album or will it be passed on to the next owner like an heirloom? ;)

TYoung said...

Great speech, Ken! Sorry I couldn't stay after and say hello. Keep us up to date on what you're doing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,,

What happened to the $1000 Duke mag article ? Maybe it not ready yet. That sounded like easy money , 1000 !!!

Hey , anyway i just wanted to link you to this Texas girl that van dwells and writes. I am sure she would give you tips as to making some $ writing.
I hope you post the vid of your speech. I am sure you dont want to do it.
But , hey you have gone naked so far on this blog so whats a liitle more blood anf guts . hahahaha
take care Ken.

Bandett / Dennis.

brotherdoc said...

So--Ken, did you post the speech video? Let us know where. Best of luck.

Ken said...

Misplaced--Good suggestion. I've already worked for AmeriCorps: 6 months in Mississippi. The education award, however, can only go toward tuition or student debt--neither of which I have. I would recommend AmeriCorps to any young person, but I guess I'm just looking for something bigger at this point.

Anon--ha. I looked inside one day and--much to my disappointment--there was no CD inside. While I've never listened to Alan Jackson, there's a chance I might have liked it; I've grown somewhat fond of pop-country on my drives to and from David's.

TYoung--thanks man, no worries about the hello.

Bandett--I guess I could have included that $1000 as well, but I haven't received it yet, and I guess there's no guarantee until they officially accept my article. Ha, thanks for the link--though I don't remember going naked on this blog.

brotherdoc--I'll put the speech up in the next couple days. I'm still writing my "conclusion" to the van experiment.

Anonymous said...

When your book comes out, hope it has few less "feathers" in it :)

Ken said...

Looks like I can see old comments again.

Constant- Yeah I felt awfully silly in that thing, but I guess it's a lot easier to wear when much of the crowd looks equally as ridiculous.


Cheyenne--no magna cum laude; I think they picked me because they thought I might have an interesting story to tell.

Moom--Is that a fact. Interesting.

Bob--I thought about the whole naked thing, but I just told myself that I was a good speaker beforehand. I find that fake confidence leads to real confidence sometimes.

Anon--Know me too well.

Spare--Good to hear from you. Thanks.

Rita--Extreme introvert? Check out this article. It's good stuff.

Anon--Feathers? I'm afriad I don't follow.