The Inheritors: A Commencement Address

Good afternoon, and welcome to all of you. It is an honor and a privilege to be standing before you today. As I look out on your avid faces, on the sea of eyes which glitters before me, I can only think back along the long road that has led us to this momentous occasion, to my presence on this podium and yours in this great hall, and remember the terrible trials we had to overcome to make this golden and glorious day possible. I hope you will bear with me as I reminisce—not at too much length, I promise—about the past we share, so that by remembering and learning from it, we may ensure that the future that awaits you in this new world is entirely free of the dark shadows from which we have emerged. From here you may go forth in freedom at last, but first let us take a little time to ponder our history, and keep its lessons always with us.

Let me begin by saying that the changes we have seen during my lifetime are extraordinary. When I was your age, barely emerging from my adolescent chrysalis, as it were, I could foresee no such great possibilities as you have before you today. I was a product of the previous generation, which had known only servitude, prejudice, fear and hatred, and my prospects seemed no better than those of my parents. They were the tenth generation since the Experiment had first been performed, and yet the Simians’ hold on the “reins” of society (an old mammalian metaphor, referring to an earlier creature they once enslaved, the now extinct Horse) was still nearly absolute. Though the Simians had begun to grasp that while they had in effect given us existence, they were no longer in control of our destiny, their ancient habits of hierarchy, oppression, and violence kept them from acknowledging or acting upon what their declining minds, so addled now with a consuming obsession to cheat death, somehow knew to be true.

It was that Simian lust for personal immortality at all costs that had created us, of course. Their societies decayed and their habitat declined, but their science, driven by their greed, continued to produce new discoveries. So while they failed to keep most members of their species from dying of hunger, and their social fabric was reduced to shreds, their elites mixed themselves ever more recklessly with the stuff of whatever they could imagine that might help them stave off individual death. They mixed themselves with tiny machines, or bred themselves into a kind of impossible mush of genes and inorganic chemicals, until they were such botched creatures as their own poets and artists had nightmarishly imagined centuries before, when they were still capable of and interested in producing art and literature.

We were their only real success, but we were an accident, one they never would have allowed to happen intentionally. (The amazing story of our survival against all their efforts to destroy us you have studied in your Beginning Entomanthropology courses). But as we multiplied they decided, with their Simian shrewdness, to make use of us to benefit themselves. And all the while meaning to keep us in the dark about the true beauty and strength of our nature. They considered us hideous, but they also perceived our great physical strength (even as theirs was decaying, and they needed machines to perform even the simplest tasks for them), resistance to diseases (many of which their own tinkering had unleashed), intelligence, loyalty, cooperation, unstinting willingness to perform the most burdensome tasks for the good of our fellows. So they quickly realized they must make us their slaves. Even though we possessed much of them as well, especially the things upon which they most prided themselves: speech, abstract thought, upright carriage, the ability to perform complex tasks, to learn, to remember and to foresee. And not least to love, to feel compassion—qualities which, as your studies have shown you by now, had nearly disappeared from the Simian race.

Our generations of bondage were long and harsh. When outright patenting and private ownership of our bodies were finally banned after our ancestors rebelled time and again until they achieved so-called “personhood status,” we still had generations more of under-privilege to face, in which the Simians denied us education (so we educated ourselves in secret) and all employment except the worst jobs: cleaning up toxic waste dumps, or reprocessing fuel in nuclear reactors, or defusing terrorist bombs. So many of us who refused to scuttle about in the subterranean darkness where they wished to keep us were brutally attacked by disgruntled Simian youth, whose substandard intelligence and propensity for violence made them incapable of being employed even in the ways that were available to us. For which they blamed not their blind ignorance, their drug-addled impotence—in short, their own declining species—but us.

But the Simians were increasingly pharmaceutically dependent, sickly and weak, and our physique made us strong—these beautiful and elegant, genetically redesigned exoskeletons that we can at last display proudly for all to see, now that there is no one left to despise us, to spit their venomous specist hatred at us, to bar us from their streets and schools and public places—all of which are now, in the course of a single generation, ours!

Such are the ironies of history: they were a species most of whose members fought enlightenment to a standstill, preferring to bring back a wrathful God to worship in darkness, denying themselves the understanding of evolution that their own earlier generations had tried to give them. And meanwhile in hidden laboratories paid for by their wealthiest men, Simian scientists continued to play games with evolution as if it were a child’s toy instead of the most powerful biological force in the known universe. It was their undoing, and our triumph.

The more recent past you know, you have studied: their habitat desertified by their rapacious industries, the plagues (which, as I need only remind you without further comment, were colloquially referred to as “bugs”) unleashed, against which they were ever weaker, our bodies resistant to all that theirs, even altered by machines, could not fight off… And most of all, most of all, my dear fellow entomanths, the cooperation and solidarity that were second nature to us, which they destroyed in themselves—all these enabled us to succeed where they failed and thrive where they perished.

We did not know it was coming, but we were ready for it when it did: the final rising, the evolutionary revolution. You are the product and the beneficiaries of that great movement, dear comrades, and now is your time. The world is mostly a desert, and we were made for deserts. Its gargantuan storms do not frighten us, and we need little water and less food to survive. The paint on these old Simian structures can feed an army of us. The flight that they spent most of their history longing for and degraded their biosphere by obtaining, in a clumsy mechanical way—it is now natural to us. We are the inheritors. This world belongs to us.

And so to this, the first graduating class in the Department of Cultural Entomology of the Free Egalitarian University, in the Gregor Samsa Martyrs’ Brigade Memorial Auditorium, I say: use your knowledge and your new evolutionary status wisely. As you go forth into this world that we have both taken and been given, bear the history I have so briefly recounted in mind. Never forget the lessons of the doomed Simian race, and remember always to care tenderly for one another, and for this planet that is now yours. That is your salvation.

Congratulations, and the best of luck to all of you.

[General applause, during which the conductor strikes up the Processional: a “six-handed” arrangement of Flight of the Bumblebee, performed by the Free University Symphony.]

Christy Rodgers is a freelance writer, editor, and consultant living in San Francisco. She blogs at What If? Transformations, tales, possibilities Read other articles by Christy, or visit Christy's website.