More like a comedian than a college lecturer, Dave Barry peppered his trademark irreverence with simple insights into life, love and the college student experience. The 2011 Fall Convocation and 11th annual Baird Pulitzer Prize Lecture was unlike anything seen at Elon University in recent years.
Barry was a columnist for the Miami Herald from 1983 to 2005 with articles pointing out the humor in everyday life and in national news. He won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1988 “for his consistently effective use of humor as a device for presenting fresh insights into serious concerns,” the only humor writer to do so. He has published hundreds of articles and dozens of nonfiction, fiction and young adult books.
Andrew Perry, associate professor of English, introduced Barry with an admission.
“It’s Dave Barry’s fault that I’m introducing him, this rainy afternoon,” Perry said. “I can be fairly certain that my story isn’t unique. Dave Barry made me want to write.”
With syndication in more than 500 newspapers, Barry’s columns were read across the country. He related many of the stories from his columns in his speech.
Jokingly titled “The future: Forget about it,” Barry rattled off jokes and stories that resulted in laughs across Alumni Gym. From driving in Miami to airport security, his talk was more like a stand-up routine. But as Perry said in the introduction, Barry’s writing sneaks up on the reader and delivers a punch of pathos.
On his college and journalism careers, Barry shied away from any boast, but detailed situations where he was part of a “real” press corps, as opposed to just writing humor, and said the skills he learned in college, such as guitar chords, are still useful to him today.
But on a more serious note, he told Elon students to stay in school.
“Stay in college,” he said. Then following a pause: “Don’t let them trick you into graduating. It’s bad out there. Stay right here. Keep changing majors. If that doesn’t work, hide in the shrubbery.”
Flippant allusions to aging, sex and relationship woes led up to a laundry list of Barry’s wisdom for people of all ages, including:
-“A penny saved is worthless.”
-“The one thing that unites all human beings regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background is that deep down inside we all believe that we are above-average drivers.”
-“If you had to identify in one word the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be: ‘meetings.'”
-“You should not confuse your career with your life.”
-“A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.”
-“No matter what happens, somebody will find a way to take it too seriously.”
And finally, Barry put life in perspective for college students with a description of his favorite column, a story where an Oregon TV station was covering the removal, by dynamite, of a beached, dead whale. The takeaway?
“As you go through life, you will face challenges and will sometimes be unable to figure out what to do,” he said. “Put it out of your mind for a minute and think back to that exploding whale.”