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May 20, 2001

Novelist Stephen King delivered the commencement address to the graduating Class of 2001. Focusing his speech on the fleeting nature of life and the 624 graduates’ mortality, Mr. King acknowledged that he was “casting gloom, even the pall of death, on what should be a joyous and wonderful day.”

“A couple of years ago,” he said, “I found out what ‘you can’t take it with you’ means. I found out while I was lying in a ditch at the side of a country road, covered with mud and blood and with the tibia of my right leg poking out the side of my jeans like the branch of a tree taken down in a thunderstorm. I had a MasterCard in my wallet, but when you’re lying in the ditch with broken glass in your hair, no one accepts MasterCard.”

Then King, whose sons Joe and Owen were Vassar graduates, evoked—according to The New York Times—“a characteristically creepy picture of a happy family eating fried chicken and cake in their backyard as hungry men, women and children watch silently from behind a fence. The backyard, Mr. King said, was America, and the starving people were the rest of the world.” King announced that he was donating $20,000 in the class’s name to a local charity serving the homeless, the hungry and those with H.I.V. “He asked the graduates and their families to remember this vision as they sat down to celebratory luncheons, and to contribute to the same local charity that he was giving to.” At the conclusion of the ceremony, “$20 bills and personal checks for Dutchess Outreach were piling up in a cardboard box.” The New York Times

The Years