A Graduation Like No Other: FINAL TAKE!
By Gracie Phillips, KVML Summer Intern
The Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library (KVML) ended its virtual Month-of-May Unceremonial Graduation Celebrations Tuesday evening with a slam-dunk lineup of special guests, musical tributes, touching speeches, and more.
Julia Whitehead, the founder and CEO of KVML and Dan Simon of Seven Stories Press welcomed and introduced longtime friends of the museum Lewis Black and David Brancaccio, along with actor Matt Dillon, singer Judy Pancoast, comedian Scott Long, Steve Campbell with the Indianapolis Colts, influencer and KVML board member Terrian Barnes, and musical duo Kat Wallace and David Sasso.
Guests took turns reading portions of Vonnegut’s speech “What the Ghost Dance of the Native Americans and the French Painters who Lead the Cubist Movement Have in Common,” originally presented to graduates at the University of Chicago in 1974. The speech is one of many in the collection If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?
Musicians Wallace and Sasso performed a beautiful piece modeled after an untitled Vonnegut poem, which Sasso composed for the grand opening of the new KVML last fall.
“To me, the poem captures the curiosity and clarity of children as they try to make sense of the world around them, often focusing in on the important things, whereas as adults we can lose sight of those important things,” Sasso shared of the moving tribute to both Vonnegut and the graduates of 2020, who are faced with unprecedented circumstances in the wake of COVID-19.
“Kurt Vonnegut liked classical, he liked jazz, he liked rock and roll, and all kinds of stuff,” Whitehead said after the tribute. “But we will always have a place for David and Kat, and the beautiful music they create.”
Next, readers recreated a conversation between Vonnegut and Lee Stringer, a writer who collaborated with the author on the book, Like Shaking Hands with God.
After the reading, Sasso and Wallace returned for another song, this time with the words of James Whitcomb Riley’s poem “Dreamer, Say” but the composition talents of Sasso once again.
“It describes the beautiful places and states of mind we can travel to in our imaginations,” said Wallace. “And I highly recommend it as a good poem to read as we’re all stuck at home these days.”
The song struck a chord with the listeners, particularly with members of KVML, who first heard it at the grand opening.
“Fourteen hundred people donated for us to buy this building. We have tried for ten years to be able to get our own place,” Whitehead said through tears. “Most of those 1,400 people were pitching in ten dollars or twenty dollars from all over the country, all over the world. So many of you helped us.
Wouldn’t it be just like a Vonnegut story to have a pandemic come rolling in just as we open our new building?” she added with a laugh.
Continuing on, Indy-based comedian Scott Long, winner of the 2019 Kurt Vonnegut Humor Award, joked with the graduates who were watching online. “I would like to tell all the 2020 graduates, you have hit the jackpot,” he said. “You have nothing in front of you but excuses. You will be able to make excuses for so long. You can always look back at this pandemic and say, ‘I need to live in your basement for five years because I am not over this.’”
One of those graduates, Gabe Brown, from Pike High School in Indianapolis joined the conversation and reintroduced Black in a video clip giving graduation speech in San Diego in 2013.
Returning to the present, Black read over fifty names celebrating entire graduating classes and single graduates across the world, concluding with these final words:
“Every one of you matters more than you will ever, ever know.”
Congratulations, class of 2020!