Saturday, November 26

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Lesson from the Oscars on thesis acknowledgements

Now that my dear colleague Hilary Smith has exploded the myth of the senior thesis like "Jiffy Pop," I thought that I would stop "kvetching" about the actual text of the tome and skip right to the acknowledgments page – which, as of the day before my thesis, was still not done.

After sitting in front of a half done thesis, pounding out lines on a caffeine high, I took a moment of solace to walk down by the golf course, contemplated the meaning of life, then figured it was all bullshit – and I went in to watch the Oscars. That's right, pure unadulterated network-sanctioned porn.


As Hollywood celebrated how wonderful it was to be "Hollywood," I realized I won't even get a gold star for doing my thesis, let alone a little naked gold man for my bookshelf. My asking price won't go up at Smith Barney or at the McDonald's I'll actually be working at next year. No, no, never that. So, I had to take my one moment of glory – the acknowledgments page on my thesis – and pretend it was my Oscar speech.

Doing so, I realized a fundamental problem with this whole "thank you" thing. What if you hate the person ten years from now? What if you hate them tomorrow? That's right, think about it.

Your thesis might just be a jumping off point to a much larger work, but ultimately this is just the beginning of many Princetonians' writing careers. But, for professional actors (umm . . . I mean movie stars), directors, Alan Smithees, boom girls and grips, this is "as good as it gets." They've peaked! Their fifteen minutes of fame are winding down right now, a week after the awards. So all the hoo-ha about not preparing a speech is a big lie.

Let's face it: Not everybody is into Hollywood patting itself on the back every year like a rite of spring, but people do remember what is said. After all, in a strange twist of irony this year, Joan Cusack was nominated for a best supporting actress role in "In and Out" – a movie based on Tom Hank's faux pas of outing his former drama teacher during his Oscar speech. Tom didn't get "to out" anybody this year, but he got the constant reminder of his speech every time he saw Kevin Kline try to be a "Macho man" in the TV promos for the movie.

And what about Oscar's cousin, the Emmy Awards. She's got her share of memorable moments. Kirstie Alley thanked her husband Parker Stevenson for giving her "The Big One" for all those years now they're divorcing and he's suing her for alimony. OK, so most women would gladly part with a little cash for "The Big One," but let's face it, after "The Hardy Boys" Parker's career took a dive, and the only award he's winning today is "Skinniest legs on Baywatch, next to Gena Lee Nolin, that is."

Even Brad Pitt made the mistake of thanking his "angel," Gwenyth Paltrow, when he won his Golden Globe for "Twelve Monkeys." Too bad: Gwenyth traded in Brad for Oscar winner, Ben Affleck.


And as boring a person as I think Helen Hunt is, I have to give her credit for not mentioning her boyfriend's name in her speech. She just pointed to Hank Azaria – the guy from "The Birdcage" – in a moment when you just knew it was that special unspoken language between lovers, and that said it all. And it can't be used against her in a court of law, so good thinking, Helen.

I mean, let's face it – you're the one standing alone up there, it's your moment of glory, so hog it. Don't thank anybody who's not going to be with you in the future. Because after the breakup or the falling-out, as you watch the VCR tape or see clips of your speech forever trapped on celluloid and forever associated with your name, you'll never forget how that person ruined the one great moment of your life.

So seniors, if you get the chance, please revise your acknowledgments page and leave out that drinking buddy, your random hookup or even that boyfriend or girlfriend – because if they haven't given you an engagement ring yet, you probably won't be one of the 65 percent of Princetonians that marry each other.

Also, leave out anybody who has the potential to embarrass you in 20 years if someone, including you, actually does dust off your thesis in a decade or so. Just thank God and your parents, in any permutation you please. People responsible for your existence are pretty safe bets for thank yous. Everyone else is expendable.

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Yet I concede that the Mom and Pop, 2.5 kids and a white picket fence only make up 10 percent of all households today, so "family" can be just about anyone – that special best friend who's known you from Freshmen Week to Reunions, that generous professor who actually believed in your work when no one else did – those people make good memories. It's not that others haven't contributed to your work, it's just that people have a tendency to think they own you once you give them a little gratitude; and the people you really need to thank, won't need it – because for them your simple friendship is thanks enough.

Not to get gushy, not that your acknowledgments page is going to get you an "A," but after all, what you remember about college won't be the specific classes or maybe even what you wrote for your thesis – it will be the people.