What Nancy's father said
Neil Simon seldom writes anything but plays and movies. But the author of the current Broadway hit ''Brighton Beach Memoirs'' made an exception for the Williams College commencement earlier this month. Herewith a few of his remarks:
Mr. President, faculty, graduates, family, friends . . . squirrels, chairs, grass . . . statues, dormitories, campus, packed valises, tied up books, lost sneakers, unreturned tennis rackets, tear-stained phone books with illegible phone numbers, six cans of tuna fish stuffed in a duffel bag, requited and unrequited lovers, lovers that quit before they got quited, those of you pondering major decisions, those of you who have already made your final major decision and changed it seven times; those looking around for someone who has an extra major decision to spare; those who are looking anxiously to the future, those who hope I keep speaking forever so that their future will be put on permanent hold; those who are smiling, those who are crying, those with sweaty palms and those with grim determination; birds, bees, bats, butterflies, and partly cloudy skies. . . . Have I left anyone out? . . . If you're not anywhere on the list I just mentioned, please see your faculty adviser to find out who and what you are. . . . Chances are you still need an extra two years here.
I am proud, honored, and delighted to be the commencement speaker for the Class of '84. Driving up here yesterday with road directions given to me by my daughter, I thought I would be the commencement speaker for the Class of '85.
I would, of course, like to extend my gratitude to the powers that be at Williams for graciously bestowing upon me an honorary doctorate in letters. You must realize that honorary degrees are generally given to people whose SAT scores were too low to get them into the school the regular way. As a matter of fact, it was my SAT scores that led me into my present vocation in life - comedy.
The last thing I am is ungrateful for this generous and gracious acknowledgment, but to be perfectly honest I'm not exactly sure what an honorary doctorate affords me in life. . . . Am I now more intelligent or am I just honorarily smarter? . . . Will I be invited to the homecoming games on the 50 -yard line, or will I receive two honorary tickets which entitle me to listen to it on local radio? . . . Actually people with honorary awards are often looked upon with disfavor. . . . Would you let an honorary mechanic fix your brand new Mercedes? . . .
I have received other such awards, proudly. In 1981 Hofstra University awarded me an honorary doctor of humane letters. To be frank, I thought a humane letter was, ''Dear Sir, we have decided not to kill your dog.''
In 1982, Cornell University made me an honorary bachelor of arts at Syracuse University.
In 1983, Miami University appointed me dean of arts and sciences for the Fontainebleau Hotel.
Princeton University gave me a chair. It was one of those canvas wooden chairs that you use at the beach. But it was from Princeton and they only charged me $39.95, so I took it. . . . I also gave two lectures at Harvard University. . . . I wasn't given any degrees or credits for it, but they did say it was worth the equivalent of 41 lectures at UCLA. . . .
Don't listen to those who say, ''It's not done that way.'' Maybe it's not but maybe you will. Don't listen to those who say, ''You're taking too big a chance.''
If he didn't take a big chance, Michelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor and it would surely be rubbed out by today. . . . And most important, don't listen to yourself when the little voice of fear inside of you rears its ugly head and says, ''They're all smarter than you out there. They're more talented, they're taller, blonder, prettier, luckier, and have connections. They have a cousin who took out Meryl Streep's baby sitter. . . .''
I firmly believe that if you follow a path that interests you, hopefully with a passion, and if you bring to it a sense of your own worth, not to the exclusion of love, sensitivity, and cooperation with others, but with the strength of conviction that you can move others by your own efforts, and do not make success or failure the criteria by which you live, the chances are you'll be a person worthy of your own respect.
I don't know how much help I've given you today, but I can say this. For the privilege of letting me address this gathering, what you've given me is a great deal of satisfaction. It's been years since I've had the opportunity to speak this long to my daughter without her interrupting. . . . I have to amend that. She's the most interesting interrupter I've ever met.
I'm speaking as the father of Nancy right now, but, in a sense, I'm speaking for all the proud, happy, and tearful parents gathered here this morning, most of whom, unfortunately, probably missed breakfast. . . .
I thank you for inviting me. I thank you for my honorary doctorate. I intend to make house calls and will be on vacation in August. . . .