June 22, 2016
“Well all right.”
It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “So it goes,” but the pointed understatement and faux-cheerful stoicism are already in place. As is the skeptical attitude toward the glories of mass slaughter. We at Seven Stories hereby present to you the “Well All Right,” the college musings of Kurt Vonnegut.
In the Cornell Daily Sun article linked above, a twenty-year-old Vonnegut eerily prefigures the subject matter of his later novels. “Cheers for the Army, the Navy . . . the WAAC’s, the WAAVs,” Vonnegut writes, mocking the gung-ho attitude of the university’s war recruiters and the nation at large, “to hell with the slackers in college.” Decrying the revolving door between war recruiters and the university, he seeks to remind his fellow students that there’s no shame in putting aside war for a moment and getting an education. Aside from attending classes, Vonnegut writes, “what we do is justly our own damned business!”
Yet in three month’s time the author himself had left Cornell for the Army. More than fifty years later, he wrote a short piece for Cornell Magazine, included in If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: The Graduation Speeches and Other Words to Live By in which he explains: “What I have become has almost nothing to do with Cornell . . . . It has everything to do with the absorbing adventure of writing for and editing The Cornell Daily Sun.”
Taking into account the absorbing adventure that is Vonnegut’s oeuvre, there are a number of reasons we’re proud to publish Vonnegut’s graduation speeches in particular. One is that young people are the ones who have kept Kurt’s books at the top of the shelves. While cultural gatekeepers such as the New Yorker shunned Kurt in the ‘60s for his lack of sophistication, the students and other adolescents who were being asked to die in Vietnam were able to read books like Slaughterhouse-Five with all the urgency and attention they demanded.
So we salute those young readers and writers who love Kurt, and all those who will never be quite sophisticated enough to act as mandarins for the rich and powerful. Some of the elder statesmen among us could stand to learn something from you. And if they never do, all we have to say is: Well all right, so it goes.