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Quirky salutatorian, Columbia University, NYC, 1999



Robed to the heels in teal, mortared with green strands, pips on the shoulders, dodgy left knee, salutatorian arrives at the lectern with watered-down wee dripping off the tip of my dick like a loose faucet needs work. Accoutred thus it was a challenge to pee last minute; splashage ensued. I dipped it under the bathroom tap but the Associate Dean of Students came in so I pulled my gown wide around it and stared up close at my brown teeth in the mirror till he, vastly more experienced, left. He is in the front row.

My stain hidden behind the wooden monolith on which I lay my speech, the audience of graduants and loved ones begin to laugh at the formalities of my opening gratitude to the president, the dean et al, this is Obama’s alma mater. As ever here it’s the accent, the quirky Brit who’s been getting away with deadline murder from professors because I tell them I’m most awfully sorry. I also delight meatheads in the gym who beg me to insult them again in that quirky Brit way. To today’s packed auditorium every name out of my mouth sounds like an audition for Monty Python and the rows begin to quiver with mirth.

Being a mature student comfortable with metaphor, I introduce the idea of exigency in life to hundreds of deserving scholarship recipients, who broadly approve of my ‘Try to duck the shit stick’ message imbued with Nietzsche’s ‘All that does not kill me’, closing with ‘while you will survive the shit-stick battering not many people will help you clean up or likely have the stomachs to talk to you again at which point survival might be pointless’. How they laugh, at me, with me, it hardly matters, let laughter rule on its own terms, bang in the present moment, I’ve a turd in my undies. I leave for the wings to healthy applause, lots of chortling, head straight for the bathroom.

With great fortune the valedictorian, a heavily-accented German in a rigidly-pressed gown, speaks in high-quality monotone for 30 minutes about freedom of the press during the Third Reich and how we mustn’t let this happen again. From the wing all I can hear is someone’s grandad coughing. Most stuff, I’ve learnt, we can control. Other times what’s out of reach up front gets it so wrong that second place is just as good as first.


This story was written by Daniel Roy Connelly. A former British diplomat who left school at 17. He holds a first-class honours degree from Columbia University and an MLitt (dist.) and PhD in Shakespeare’s Othello from The University of Saint Andrews. His poetry is widely published online and in print. He was the winner of the 2014 Fermoy International Poetry Festival Prize, a finalist in the 2015 Aesthetica Magazine Creative Writing Prize and winner of the 2015 Cuirt New Writing Prize for poetry. His recent work has been published by The North, The Transnational (in German), Ink, Sweat and Tears and is forthcoming in Critical Survey. Check him out on his website Rumination and Publication. 
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