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  • Ken Ilgunas


(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.


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