be happy, take care of your teeth, always let your conscience be your guide.

May 24, 2010

I was so inspired by this speech delivered by Patti Smith at the Pratt commencement ceremony that I decided to transcribe it and post it here. I hope you enjoy it.

now that i’m here, my greatest urge is to speak to you of dental care. my generation had a rough go dentally. our dentists were the army dentists who came back from world war two and believed that the dental office was a battle ground. you have a better chance at dental health. and i say this because you want at night to be pacing the floor because your fuse is burning inside of you because you want to do your work because you want to finish that canvas because you want to help your fellow man. you don’t want to be pacing because you need a damn root canal. so, floss. use salt and baking soda… take care of your damn teeth.

i never got a degree myself because i lacked some of the things that you have. i got it eventually… i got one now. but it is proof that you had the courage, the discipline, you stayed conscious,… at least part of the time… you sacrificed, and you got through boot camp. maybe it wasn’t so pretty. maybe you got through by the skin of your teeth. but you have accomplished the first run in your mission in life.

in 1967 i went to left school. i came to new york city. i went to brooklyn because i had friends at pratt and i stayed there. i met robert mapplethorp and we lived on hall street. i learned from him, i learned from my friends and their teachers. we walked on clinton… on st. james… the same places you walked. we bought our supplies at jake’s. we ate at that corner diner on st. james and had grilled cheese sandwiches and egg creams and dreamed. and when we went out to the world, we went to new york city, to the chelsea hotel. sort of like pinnochio.

i think of this like pinnochio because pinnochio went out into the world. he went on his road filled with good intentions, with a vision. he went ready to do all the things he dreamed. but he was pulled this way and that. he was distracted. he faltered. he made mistakes. but he kept on. pinnochio in the end became himself because the little flame inside him, no matter what crap he went through, would not be extinguished.

we are all pinnochio. and do you know what i found? after several decades of life. we are pinnochio over and over again. we achieve our goal. we become a level of ourselves. and then we want to go further. and we make new mistakes. and we have new hardships. but we prevail. we are human. we are alive. we have blood. pratt was part of my initiation. within its environs i got courage and i gained confidence to do what i had to do in my life.

i think about in being a fellow pinnochio… oh, i actually forgot what i was going to say…

what should we aspire to as we go on our road? when i was in my early 20s, i was lucky to have william burroughs as a friend and mentor. when i was with him and i asked him this question: “what should i aspire to?” and he thought, and he said: “my dear, a gold american express would be good.” but after that he said very thoughtfully, “build your name.” and i said, “william, my name is smith.” and he said, “well, you’ll have to build a little harder.” but what william meant when he told me to build my name, build a good name, because a name is not to get famous. he wasn’t talking about celebrity. he was talking about let your name radiate yourself. magnify who you are. your good deeds. your coat of honor. and as you go through life your name will serve you.

we might ask ourselves, what tools do we have? what can we count on? you can count on yourself. believe me, your self is your best ally. you know who you are. even when sometimes it becomes a little blurry and you make mistakes or [inaudible], just go deeper. you know who you are. you know the right thing to do. and when you make a mistake, it’s alright. as the song goes, pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and start all over again.

when you proceed on your course, never forget you are not alone. you have friends and family. but you also have you ancestors. your ancestors sing in your blood. call to them. their strength through the ages will come into you. and then there are your spiritual ancestors. call on them. they have set themselves up through human history to be at your disposal. jesus, he said, i am with you always, even into the end of the world. allen ginsburg, walt whitman. they are with you. choose the one you wish to walk with and he or she will walk with you. don’t forget that. you are not alone.

when i left home, i asked my father what advice he could give me. my father was very intelligent, very well read. he read all the great books, all the great philosophers. but when i asked his advice, he told me one thing: be happy. it’s all he said. so simple. i’m telling you, these simple things: taking care of your teeth, being happy. they will be your greatest allies. because when you’re happy, you ignite that little flame that tells you and reminds you who you are. and it will ignite, it will animate your enthusiasm for things. it will enforce your work.

be happy, take care of your teeth, always let your conscience be your guide.

well, i wish you god and good luck.

video via the daily swarm

update: i transcribed this speech for the hearing impaired.

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6 Responses to “be happy, take care of your teeth, always let your conscience be your guide.”

  1. peter mac said

    thanks for transcribing this, its such a lovely speech. Shes got some great punchlines in there too.

  2. David said

    I’m glad this got transcribed. I think she’s actually saying, “In 1967, I *left* school…”

  3. dantebronte said

    thanks for the correction. i updated my transcript.

  4. PR said

    jiminy!

  5. […] honest that she briefly breaks down emotionally on two occasions. Though you can read a transcript here (via the Daily Swarm), I highly suggest you listen to her speak below. The Awl has video of two […]

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