This weekend I flew to Southern California for a very quick Mother’s Day visit to my mom in the O.C.. While I was here, I took up a somewhat astonishing offer from my alma mater, Otis School of Art and Design in Los Angeles, to give the commencement address at this year’s graduation ceremony.
I was so flattered that I had been asked to do this at all that chances were good that I would have said yes in spite of what they told me next: that they would be giving an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts to Cheech Marin at the same ceremony. Meaning I’d be sharing a stage with Cheech Marin. THE Cheech Marin. As soon as I heard this, my response was, “Done. I’ll be there.”
Hanging Out with Cheech Marin
It turns out that there’s a good reason that the school elected to award this honorary degree to Cheech Marin, even beyond the fact that his very appearance ignites great cheers and much joy amongst college-age youngsters, and that his stage presence is very, very winning. Aside from his status as a much beloved icon of narcotic comedy, Marin has been for years a notable champion of Chicano art. He’s one of the world’s most prolific collectors of work by Chicano and Chicana artists, and he’s the principal force behind the traveling exhibition Chicano Visions.
He also turns out to be a resoundingly nice guy. I chatted with him for a good deal of time beforehand, and we sat on stage next to one another during the ceremony. I’ve met a handful of famous and quasi-famous people in my lifetime, and one thing I’ve noticed about many of them is that they rarely seem to be listening when people talk to them. Not the case with Cheech. He’s a great guy.
For the sake of posterity, I’ve posted the text of the commencement address I delivered yesterday (I don’t have anything to offer from Cheech’s speech, sorry.). Giving this sort of talk turns out to be a different experience from the presentations I’ve given thus far in my career.
First off, I didn’t have the benefit of a slideshow presentation to provide visual punctuation to my words, which mildly spooked me at first but after some practicing I got a handle on it. Second, the substance of the talk had to provide inspiration rather than explication — no retreating to the safety of acronyms, design jargon or technical mumbo jumbo — which in some ways was easier but in another sense was more frightening. Finally, with a few hundred Otis graduates from disciplines as different as fashion design and architecture in attendance — as well as their parents — it was the most diverse audience I’ve spoken before yet.
I had a great time, and I think I delivered a good address, or at least that was the upshot of the limited feedback I got immediately afterwards. Anyway, if I actually did very poorly, I can rest easy in that old truism: nobody really remembers the commencement addresses given at their graduation. Especially if the commencement speaker has to share a stage with Cheech Marin.