I drove past a local high school yesterday, which reminded me it’s graduation time—again. But dig this: no one asked me to give the commencement address—again. I mean c'mon, man, they really should! You see, I’ve lived a colorful, roller-coaster life, have plenty of worldly and worldwide experience; and I am not a political ideologue. Also, 80-percent of my experience (lessons learned) is from screwing up. I could give them a few helpful truths instead of the usual rah-rah horse manure (blast-from-the-past expression my dad used) typically recycled for such occasions. |
You get my reference, right? If not, here’s a summary of a typical graduation address: 1) we’ve got to move forward; 2) for this great nation; 3) because you are the leaders of tomorrow; 4) you can achieve anything you set your mind to; 5) and make the world a better place; 6) dare to attain greatness, yada, yada, yada. I am not suggesting those aren’t noble goals, but I am wondering how such platitudes help the audience; that is, if anyone is listening. C’mon, admit it. Graduation speeches are among the most boring and predictable regurgitations of all time. In my opinion they accomplish little except to provide the speaker either an honorarium or an occasion for ego inflation through blustering prattle. It’s not that I have any particular love for myself, but my dislike of some speakers induces me to make the best of my own company. I still remember sitting out there with a mortar board on my head flipping coins mentally while the speakers droned on and on. I didn’t hear a word; just wanted to get to the post-ceremony celebration. And just look how I turned out: I’m basking in the glow of unfulfilled potential and under achievement! Yethir!
It’s like listening to a church sermon when you’re a kid. The information imparted is mostly useful in a macro way, and the speaker actually desires to be helpful. The challenge for the preacher is to get the information out in a way that will be heard and accepted. As an example of what hasn’t worked, here’s the beginning of a typical church sermon/homily/inspirational message from my life…
The pastor grips the podium, looks over the heads of the flock for a long moment as if passing gas then begins, “I remember many, many years ago as a young man I visited New York City. (another long pause) Yes, I visited New York City. I did indeed. I traveled throughout that great metropolis to frequent the many tourist attractions, and my traveling was mostly underground. No, no, I didn’t visit Hades. (pause for chuckling that doesn’t come except maybe from a few shills in the choir) I used that marvelous conveyance they call the subway…the subway that in some other lands is called the tube or the metro, but in New York it is called the subway. Anyway, upon disembarking from the subway I chanced to ascend the wrong set of stairs; that is, those intended only for use of those descending into the underground to travel to another subway station…to travel to another station. A railway worker hailed me, not too kindly I might add, and asked me where I thought I was going. Well, my friends, I thought about that query. Indeed, where was I going? Where indeed? What is my life’s destination? Am I on the right track for salvation or have I chosen the wrong stairway? What about you? I am reminded of a man on the way to Damascus who was asked the same question amidst a blinding light…”
Zzzzzz… Huh?! Oh, yeah. Sorry for drifting off.
Well, you get the idea. Are you still awake after that babbling bit of chloroform? How do you like the unnecessary repetition? That’s what they do! Speakers say they do that to make sure they get across their point, and maybe, just maybe, that’s true; but I think they do it to fill time.
If I gave a commencement address I would not make a speech. I’d have a conversation with the audience—not talk AT them. See, if you’re trying to sell a product, service, or a point-of-view, a basic “human condition” question must be answered, mainly: What’s in it for me? Before I give my version, permit me an observation. At the last graduation ceremony I attended, the second-generation immigrant kids and the so-called nerds received their shingles with humility and courtesy, but so-called too-cool-for-school types (a surprising number) looked out to the crowd as they approached the podium, and yelled something like, “Woo-hoo! D for diploma! Yeah!” Their vegetable-mentality families woo-hoo-ed back with reckless abandon proving, at least to me, that we really are turning into a nation of rude, crude, ignorant slobs and snobs.
There are many topics I could cover, but to keep it succinct and focused—and NOT boring—there are three little constituent parts that cover everything young aspirants need to help them as they leave high school.
Number one, the very first important thing is that life is short; time is precious and finite. Some of you will not be alive to attend your ten-year reunion. Therefore, be jealous of every minute. Seek joy in all things. Given that most of us have to work to survive, find something that you really enjoy, that you can approach with the attitude of a volunteer. That means you do not necessarily have to attend college. If you do not wish to work for “the man” figure out how to combine hobby and job to work for yourself. Consider blue collar entrepreneurship: roofing, landscaping, etc. Mainly, have fun out there, but not at the expense of responsibility. Being responsible heightens the fun.
The second most important thing is life is not fair. In spite of your upbringing not everyone gets a trophy. After high school no one cares about your self-esteem and feelings. Those of you attending college will find that out soon enough. You don’t show up for class? No one cares. One-third of your freshman class will flunk out. Just look at what goes on in politics, business, and social life in the grown-up world. What’s the first thing Donald Trump says in the boardroom? “Who’s to blame?” You’ve grown up in an environment of “no consequences”. Be prepared to have your ass kicked, and your heart broken. Find one good friend. Enjoy the opposite sex, but always be respectful.
Number three, what could it be? Here it is: the government, your parents, and your friends do not have your best interests at heart. The human condition is to be self-serving. All levels of government are staffed by people whose main goal is to stay on the dole, and they’ll tell you anything for your vote. Politics and principles are opposites. Some parents attempt to live vicariously through their children. They look at you to make up for what they perceive as their own failures in life. If your friends have a conflicting agenda and cannot convince you to abandon your own, they will desert you in your hour-of-need because they know you love them and will understand. Find your own dream and have constancy of purpose. Crave knowledge over grades
So there you are. The summary is brief, and I could have gone on-and-on. To save you the pain of that experience, I’ve given you what you’re used to in this world of travail and cheap wine; namely, convenient little sound bites. It’s up to you to investigate further and take action. Cheers!
By Gene Myers a world class buttinski and provider of unasked for advice.
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