Matt Groening

By David Wickert

"Evergreen's famous son right at home"
© The News Tribune (Tacoma), June 10, 2000.

'The Simpsons' creator borrows from Homer in graduation speech

Matt Groening has lobbed his share of spitballs at the education establishment during a 20-year career as a cartoonist.

In his comic strip "Life in Hell," and later in "The Simpsons," Groening has lampooned enervating classrooms where the stamp of conformity falls on the foreheads of troubled and gifted students alike.

But Friday, Groening sounded almost sentimental as he urged some 1,244 new graduates of The Evergreen State College to thank their professors and appreciate the education they'd just completed.

Almost sentimental, that is.

"As Bart Simpson would say, 'Aye, caramba!'" Groening exclaimed as he addressed faculty and students, as well as "friends, ex-roommates and assorted hangers-on."

Groening earned his own degree from Evergreen in 1977. He left Olympia for Los Angeles, where he began drawing and syndicating "Life in Hell."

Since then, he's gained more acclaim as the creator of "The Simpsons" and another television show, "Futurama." While he's received numerous requests to speak at commencements, it took his alma mater to convince him to don the cap and gown.

"I thought, 'I've got to do it at Evergreen,'" he said at a press conference following his public remarks.

Groening, a Portland native, studied philosophy and edited the student newspaper. He said he was attracted to the "haven for hippies and poets and revolutionaries" after hearing a state legislator rail against it.

"I decided at that point if a right-wing Republican was ag'n it, I was a'for it," he told the graduates.

Groening said he received an excellent education at Evergreen and would recommend it to anyone who is self-motivated. He said he remains haunted by the words of a favorite professor, Mark Levensky, who told him, "You do what you do moderately well. Now you have to ask yourself, is it worth doing?"

So far, Groening has deemed his work worth doing. He still draws "Life in Hell" and, after 10 years of the series, he still finds "The Simpsons" funny.

He has thoughts for a third television series, perhaps revolving around rock 'n' roll.

Groening seemed genuinely pleased to be back in Olympia. He soaked up the cheers of an adoring audience and wasn't above quoting his own work to earn a few chuckles.

Advising graduates on the importance of laughter, he quoted Homer Simpson: "Laughter is what separates us from the animals. Except the hyenas."

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Last updated on October 29, 2000 by Jouni Paakkinen (