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Woody Allen’s work “My Speech to the Graduates” is less an essay than an innovative parody of graduation speeches. Allen’s work doesn’t really seem to have much of a serious “point” – at least not one that is explicit or debatable. Rather, Allen for the most part seems simply to be having fun himself while also trying to amuse others. He has written the sort of speech that no one would seriously give (or give seriously). Part of the fun of the speech is that it is almost impossible to take it seriously.
Consider, for example, the sheer number of topics the speech covers – although “covers” is not quite the right word, because rather than exploring fully any of the many topics he mentions, Allen merely alights on each for a moment and then buzzes off to the next. He mentions practically every platitude and every “profound” issue it is possible to think of, but he writes merely to mock, and even that may be too serious an assessment, since the piece is less an example of serious satire than of light-hearted comedy.
Partly, too, Allen is having fun with his own famously insecure and self-doubting persona, as when he writes,
I speak, by the way, not with any sense of futility, but with a panicky conviction of the absolute meaninglessness of existence which could easily be misinterpreted as pessimism.
When reading this speech, it is almost impossible not to “hear,” in one’s mind’s ear, Allen delivering it (see the YouTube link below for an example of Allen speaking). In its faux-intellectual, self-deprecating, assertive-yet-immediately-uncertain tone, the speech is almost a perfect example of the way Allen usually presents himself, both in his written work and in his films.
If the speech has a serious “point” at all, perhaps it is to mock the over-seriousness and self-importance that sometimes creep into graduation speeches.
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