John Waters virtually addresses the students at School of Visual Arts New York City.

Filmmaker John Waters announced today that he has found the cure for COVID-19.

In a virtual commencement speech to the graduating class of 2020 from School of Visual Arts New York City (SVA), Waters revealed that the solution to ending the pandemic has been right out in the open all along:

“Artists, you are the cure… the only people that can inspire the world to notice and then alter its destructive behavior,” he announced. “You’re not the new normal, you’re the vaccine.”

All that’s needed, he said, is for the Class of 2020 to realize the power it has to change the world. “You have to light the first spark. The COVID-19 Commandos. That’s you. Congratulations. And now it’s time for action.”

Today’s address was the third commencement speech Waters has given in recent years, after talks to graduates from the Rhode Island School of Design and the Maryland Institute College of Art. Appearing online from his home in Baltimore, he spoke to some 1,280 degree candidates from the college’s 31 academic programs.

Before revealing the cure for COVID-19, Waters gave the  graduates a reverse pep talk, warning that their degrees may not be worth much in the current economy.

“You’re artists,” he reminded them. “There were never any real jobs for you in the workplace anyway, were there? Even before the epidemic.”

Waters confided that he’s in the same boat, essentially unemployed ever since “all show business” was shut down two months ago. He said he’s just been lying around at home, “paranoid about touching my face and looking forward to the first ‘Tiger King’ porno knockoff… I bet you never thought the New York Department of Health would issue guidelines recommending masturbation during the pandemic.”

A visual artist as well as a writer and filmmaker, Waters said he had hoped to give his talk in Radio City Music Hall before a live audience, as planned before New York City and the rest of the country went on lockdown in mid-March.

Instead, “here I am in front of the green screen in Baltimore, like some low-rent, special-effect nutty professor,” he lamented. “Now you have to watch me virtually, with no timing for laughs. And once posted, I’ll be subject to being rewound, or worse yet, fast-forwarded.”

He warned the audience that there might be possibility that his online talk could be interrupted by “hacker trolls” seeking to “free the test-cheater, Lori Loughlin.”

But given the circumstances, “there’s nothing we could do about it,” he admitted. “We’re trapped in a Grade Z horror movie, with no way out.”

Waters, who recently turned 74, said he was supposed to energize the audience. But “that’s a challenge when every morning you look at the headlines and they all basically say: You are going to die today.”

He encouraged the graduates to be optimistic about the situation. “If you do die tomorrow,” he said, “at least you got your college degree, right? And suppose the end of the world is happening right now. Well, you won’t miss a thing, will you? Because there will be no more things. You will be the last graduating class in the world. Now that’s what I call unique.”

He said he can empathize with students who dislike wearing face masks, steaming up their glasses and muffling their voices in online classes. “Protective face coverings threaten my whole identity,” he said, “by hiding my mustache.”

Waters said he wears masks to protect criminals who have recently been released from prison because of the pandemic, some of whom may be “robbing your parents’ cars as we speak.” He said he wears gloves, too, even though they make him feel like “Jack the Ripper, or an unemployed proctologist.”

He said he felt sorry for the SVA graduates, “robbed of a normal graduation, forever branded the Coronavirus Class of 2020.”

Waters had hoped to emulate the billionaire who paid off all the graduates’ student loans at another college, until he lost work because of the pandemic. He said he would have paid off all speeding tickets, hair salon bills, court-ordered fines and outstanding medical marijuana fees.

He urged the graduates not to complain about their plight, saying moaning won’t change anything. He suggested they try to adjust to the times and reinvent themselves if necessary.

“Artists are magicians,” he said. “You can see what others cannot. Have a secret language. The power to make others follow. A dress code all your own. And you can change history with one ludicrous idea. Plus, price-fixing is legal in your field. Count your arty blessings and march on.”

For his words of wisdom and encouragement, Waters received a Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the school, joining alums such as Keith Haring, Pete Hamill, Amy Sillman and Sarah Sze.

“Hear that police? I’m beyond the law!” Waters said, holding up his diploma and sounding giddy. “I’m a Doctor of Fine Arts now. Just call me Doctor Dirt. And nothing better get in my way!”

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

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