Robert Krulwich Commencement Address Gives Parents Words to Remember

Father of toddlers crashes college graduation ceremony to get some perspective from Radiolab host

Last June, I broke into a local college graduation ceremony. Not to excuse my trespass, but they weren’t exactly taking tickets. It was, after all, an academic pursuit to hear Robert Krulwich’s commencement speech to the graduates of 2012. Besides, my daughters were napping and my wife was planning a lesson.

Mr. Krulwich is known for accomplishments in journalism, television, radio, and, by his own accord, offering Arthur Miller financial advice while relieving himself into the neighboring urinal. What I love Mr. Krulwich for most is his co-hosting role on Radiolab, a National Public Radio program and podcast. I’ve drawn on this program for inspiration on several short stories and felt that I could not pass this opportunity to see the man behind the voice.

His speech was nothing short of compelling. He spoke of designing and redesigning who we are or who we think we are or who we think we will be so that who we will be becomes who we hope we will be. He said that this endeavor of determining who we are as individuals, though we think it is a “singular” struggle, is really a pluralized effort. He spoke of the people who say, “Why not?” instead of, “Yes, but…” He told witty anecdotes and pithy universalities, but the comment that most stood out in this speech was rather tangential to his theme. Regarding the graduates hopes and dreams, Mr. Krulwich told the parents, “May they be safe in storm.”

Mr. Krulwich was commenting on, or rather narrating, the thoughts of the graduates’ parents as they sat in the audience, parents whose experience with their own children exceeds my own by about nineteen years. But the sentiment I relate to is much the same: parents of graduates pray their children will be safe in their future lives, much as I pray my children will be safe in their future lives. Being a parent—and the joy and worry that shapes it—never ends, whether our kids are facing the workforce or facing preschool.

I am a father.

I love being a father. I love being a husband, too. I worry about them often, though my daughters are only one and three. I worry about the future my wife and I will lead them to. I worry that I will lead them to worry too much, themselves. I worry. I worry. I worry.

It’s my very Jewish heritage getting the better of me, to always worry of the next calamity, suffering from what Sarah Silverman diagnoses (tweets) as “nervous diarrhea.” I am definitely a “Yes, but…” person. I think plans. I think logistics. I think too much. I think, “Yes, but they might get hurt.” I think, “Yes, but they might get sick.” I think, “Yes, but it might be cancer.”

However, Mr. Krulwich, you are right. We must confront our individual design repeatedly as we redesign our individual. We must face worry and threat. At times, when we say, “Yes, but…” we should remember it’s okay to say, “Why not?”

And, if change is the only storm they face, I wish for my daughters, may you be safe in storm.

—Photo by CarbonNYC/Flick

About Adam Rabasca

Adam Rabasca is the author of the blog Matzoh and Meatballs, and has written a manuscript by the same title. He has been published online at Intellectual Refuge, the Newer York, WordPlaySound and on Twitter at @AdamRabasca. He currently lives in Maine with his wife and two daughters, for whom Matzoh and Meatballs is written.

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