Keillor urges grads to seek fun, adventure -- and failure

June 3, 2001, 5 p.m.

Author and comedian Garrison Keillor, weaving funny anecdotes with irreverent but heartfelt advice, urged seniors at Sunday's Baccalaureate service to take risks and have fun.

"Today's grievous mistake is tomorrow's humorous anecdote," said Keillor, who marveled at the idea of a comedian offering the words of wisdom expected of an address to new graduates.

Baccalaureate is an inter-faith service and celebration of seniors receiving their bachelor degrees. To view the service, click here .

"Most colleges prefer a standard commencement speaker who is eminent in a sort of vague statesmanlike way, so that nobody is particularly mad at him," Keillor said, "and who will talk about a 'commitment to excellence.'"

"I am not the one to talk to you about the pursuit of excellence," he said in the easy, understated style that he uses on his nationally syndicated radio show 'A Prairie Home Companion.' "Obviously you've done that already. I am here to offer an alternative."

The message of comedy, he said, is like that of the gospels: "Deep down life is a mess, but it's a beautiful mess if you don't take yourself too seriously."

"I think you should all go out and have a beautiful life that includes adventure and romance and some failure and misery and certainly some remorse," he said.

Keillor told students to avoid comparing themselves to others and to allow themselves to make mistakes. An unquestioning and safe pursuit of possession and status is a recipe for a mid-life crisis, he said. He urged students to get their mid-life crises over with in their 20s rather than their 40s.

"It's amazing how much you can learn if you are lucky enough to get into trouble when you're young. I recommend it to you," Keillor said as he launched into a rhyming conclusion that began with these lines:

"O, brave young navigators setting your course for tomorrow, Speak kindly to your parents and perhaps you could borrow Two or three grand and have yourself a beautiful summer, Lighting candles against the darkness and marching to a different drummer In Madrid, Paris, St. Petersburg, Machu Picchu, Learning what the open road has to teach you And enjoying one last romantic journey Before becoming internists or patent attorney."

Princeton's Baccalaureate tradition began in 1760 with an address by President Samuel Davies to the 11 members of the graduating class. The University president gave the address until the 1970s, when speakers outside the University were invited. This year Keillor spoke to a graduating class of about 1,100 students.

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601