Vonnegut Graduation Party – Take One!

by Gracie Phillips, KVML 2020 Summer Intern

With Kurt Vonnegut’s typewriter on display in the background, Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library’s CEO and founder Julia Whitehead and Dan Simon with Seven Stories Press welcomed guests to the first of four Vonnegut-Style Virtual Grad Parties Tuesday. Each week in May, KVML will host a celebration honoring graduates who will not get to walk across their schools’ stages this spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Julia Whitehead, KVML CEO and founder, emceeing from the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library May 5.

Publisher Dan Simon from Seven Stories Press raises a glass in honor of this year’s graduates.

“This is a graduation like no other,” Whitehead said, as she introduced actor Tony Shalhoub, writer Jacqueline Woodson, comedian and actor Lewis Black, and high school senior and KVML intern Ricco Schuster, who all took turns reading from Vonnegut’s graduation speech, “The Terrible Disease of Loneliness,” from the book, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?

Celebrity Speech Readers (L-R): Tony Shalhoub, Jacqueline Woodson, Ricco Schuster, and Lewis Black.

Simon, Vonnegut’s friend and publisher, pointed out that while Vonnegut frequently spoke at college graduations, the author never graduated college himself. “I think because of that,” Simon said, “he always approached his conversations with graduates in a very humble way.”

The ceremony highlighted the talents of Charlie Ballentine and Amanda Gardier, who performed a cheery, jazz version of “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Poet Manon Voice followed with her powerful poem, “Time Capsule,” in which she encouraged the audience to recognize that “we were worth saving, so we decided to start with ourselves.” Finally, Ed Battista from Bluebeard spoke about his restaurant and plans to eventually open a second Vonnegut-themed eatery on the first floor of the new KVML building. He raised a glass (a specialty cocktail created at Bluebeard) to the online graduates and concluded with a note of hope for the uncertain future: “We’re humans. We figure it out.”

Thanks to Amanda Gardier, Charlie Ballentine, Manon Voice, and Ed Battista for making our first graduation event a success!

Twenty-six individual graduates were honored at Tuesday’s program, with shout-outs to several colleges and high schools. The ceremony concluded with a video of Kurt Vonnegut himself reading a graduation speech from 1998 at Rice University.

If you missed this week’s ceremony, we’re hosting more over the next three weeks. Tune in May 12. Lewis Black returns to read the names of graduating seniors. He’ll be joined by a new lineup of celebrity readers and performers, including Russell Banks, David Brancaccio, Kia Corthron, Rob Dixon, and Dan Wakefield.  Go to Eventbrite for tickets and more information.


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Karl Brandt

    I had not known that Kurt Vonnegut was a Commencement speaker at Rice University. Of course, as he spoke in 1998 and I had graduated 38 years earlier (B.A. 1960 in Chemistry), it’s probably understandable. I was long gone from Rice by 1998; indeed I was closer to retirement (then only 9 years away) at that point than to Commencement. But upon reading Gracie’s blog post, I quickly got on the internet and found Vonnegut’s Rice Commencement speech and read it. My immediate reaction, to quote the great man himself, was: “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

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