Uncle Lionel Batiste
1931 – 2012
This is the dry story of a statistic.
By which, I mean to say, it is a story that today’s newspaper is no longer equipped to cover very well. And it is certainly not a story that could be easily gleaned by anyone who hasn’t at some point been a full-time beat reporter, a veteran who has covered an institution like, say, the Baltimore Police Department or the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office for year after year, learning to look behind the curtains, knowing enough not to accept a stat at face value.
They don’t usually vote on the graduating senior least likely to be invited back as the commencement speaker, or for any other reason. But if they had, I was certainly a favorite for the class of 1978. Nonetheless, the powers-that-be at my old school inquired, and because one of my great childhood friends, Gary Zinkgraf, was going to be there to celebrate his daughter Molly’s graduation, I took the gig :
First off, I imagine some of you out there – if you’re familiar with my writing, my rhetoric or my general demeanor – are wondering, can he do a high school graduation? I mean, on an occasion such as this, a certain decorum is required, right?
Well, truth is I am under contract at HBO, and the network requires me to use at least one profanity every ten minutes in every possible venue. So those of you expecting pristine commencement remarks, well, you’re shit out of luck. But I’ll try to hold it down as best I can.
The greatest commencement address ever is now more than three decades old. And it’s safe to say it will never be surpassed or even equaled. It belongs to the ages.
In 1979, its author summed up the condition of modern man by noting that, quote, more than at any other time in history, humanity is at the crossroads: one path leads to despair and utter hopelessness; the other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly. Unquote.
My alma mater, the Baltimore Sun—though something of a fraile grey lady in this internet age—is nonetheless celebrating her 175th birthday this year. Sun alumni and other Baltimoreans were invited to contribute essays to a special edition to be published this weekend.
My offering is an homage of sorts to one of the metro desk veterans who raised me from a pup.
Thanks, Dave. And no, I will never forget the First Rule of Rewrite: “Shoot It Down.” Or as you once sagely argued: “There are always salmonella outbreaks. I don’t see why we have to write about this one.”