I don’t even know how to say this: Joss Whedon gave my commencement address. WHAT IS THAT? It happened almost two weeks ago, and I still don’t quite believe that it’s true. When I was applying to colleges, I actually only applied to Wesleyan because it was easy. There was no supplement! When I got rejected from my first choice schools, I was pretty devastated, but after a while my tears had begun to dry and Wesleyan was looking pretty good. It wasn’t long before I was getting pretty excited about attending this school I hadn’t known very much about before. One of the things I was most excited about didn’t have to do with Wesleyan’s academics or social scene: I learned that one of my favorite directors, Joss Whedon, creator of Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a Wesleyan alum.
Although I had a rather rough adjustment to my first few months of college, I made it my personal mission to meet Joss Whedon before I graduated, certain that I would run into him while he was back for some reunion. I had high hopes when a group of students staged a production of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog when I was a freshman, and again in the Spring of 2011, which would have been Joss Whedon’s 25th class reunion. I had no luck either time, and was beginning to believe that my dream would never become a reality when it was announced that he would give the 2013 commencement address.
When senior week rolled around, I had a lot on my mind: ushering my family around campus as they arrived, picking up my diploma, packing up my room, saying goodbye to friends, but most importantly: MEETING JOSS WHEDON. I was thrilled to learn that there would be a screening of his upcoming film Much Ado About Nothing at our film department. I was sure he would show, so I skipped out of a banquet early and hurried over to stand in line. After we were let into the theater, we were told that Joss would likely show up at the end of the film to answer a few questions. About twenty minutes before the show was over, I saw him come in through the side door. I was so excited that I could barely focus on the end of the screening. After Much Ado was over, Joss fielded a number of questions from the audience. I was too nervous to ask one myself, but looked forward to when the event would be over so I could approach him and talk. Unfortunately, he ducked out immediately afterwards. I waited around outside (in the rain!) for a bit, hoping he might show up, but he never did. (By the way, the film was amazing, although I don’t think anyone expected anything less! Nathan Fillion as Dogberry 4 lyfe.)
For the next two nights, I kept my ears open for where Joss might be on campus. I kept hearing stories of my friends running in to him, but had no success myself. I tried not to appear too envious, but inside was questioning my every move: WHY didn’t I pretend to be a film major so I could attend their luncheon? Lots of people had met him there! WHY didn’t I pay to go to Eclectic Friday night — he was there too!? WHY did I hang out at my society house when the tent party was happening because OBVIOUSLY Joss Whedon was going to be there instead?!
By the time the morning of graduation rolled around, I figured I would have to be content with listening to Joss Whedon’s speech like everyone else. I mean, that’s already pretty awesome, right? And I had a lot of other things on my mind. People told me lots of things about graduation, but nobody told me how surreal it was going to be. I wasn’t exactly in the perfect frame of mind to take in the wise words of one of my heroes. Honestly, I’ll credit him with the fact that he managed to make us laugh—an audience of 800 petrified college seniors is a tough crowd. If you haven’t read the text of the speech or watched the video, I totally recommend checking it out. He said a lot of really smart things, some of which I think I’ll appreciate more in a few months (a few years?) when I’ve had more time to settle down. On the whole, it was pretty great advice. This is just an excerpt:
“The thing about our country is—oh, it’s nice, I like it—it’s not long on contradiction or ambiguity. It’s not long on these kinds of things. It likes things to be simple, it likes things to be pigeonholed—good or bad, black or white, blue or red. And we’re not that. We’re more interesting than that. And the way that we go into the world understanding is to have these contradictions in ourselves and see them in other people and not judge them for it. To know that, in a world where debate has kind of fallen away and given way to shouting and bullying, that the best thing is not just the idea of honest debate, the best thing is losing the debate, because it means that you learn something and you changed your position. The only way really to understand your position and its worth is to understand the opposite. That doesn’t mean the crazy guy on the radio who is spewing hate, it means the decent human truths of all the people who feel the need to listen to that guy. You are connected to those people. They’re connected to him. You can’t get away from it.”
I’ll be honest though. With all that was going on in my head that morning, I mostly took away the idea that being grown-up can’t possibly be so bad because for me it started with Joss Whedon telling me stuff.
Anyway, after the speech was over, as we started lining up to head up to the podium to get our diplomas, I noticed something important: Joss was seated in such a way that he could shake hands with graduating students as we walked up to the podium. I became so focused on the chance to meet my hero that I barely even heard the announcers calling out my friends’ names. Graduating and geeking out are two things that are very hard to do at one time! As the line slowly moved forward, I tried to signal to a friend to get a picture of me with Joss. I think my exact, frantic words were: “Take a picture of me touching Joss Whedon PLEASE!”
Before I knew it, the moment had arrived: I was shaking Joss Whedon’s hand. I think I told him, “You’re amazing, thank you,” or something silly like that. The rest was a daze, and soon the ceremony was over, my family was gathered around, and my friend hadn’t been able to get the picture.
After the ceremony I was so busy with picture taking and family herding that I couldn’t spare more than a pang of regret for this missed opportunity. After all, I had still gotten to hear his speech AND shake his hand. Plus, my brother mentioned that he had gotten a photo of Joss giving his speech, so I figured that would have to do. BUT LO, DEAR READER. A couple of days later, after a looooong drive back to Tennessee, my brother posted pictures of graduation on Facebook. I looked at them eagerly, since I hadn’t taken any of my own. And to my surprise, THERE WAS THE PICTURE:
It may seem silly that for my college graduation day I was so focused on this seemingly frivolous task, but it (mostly) kept me from freaking out about graduating, and I count that as a plus. The real world seems like a tough place, but I think I’m off to a good start.
Jessica graduated from Wesleyan University, Sunday May 26, 2013, with degrees in Classics, English, and Theater.