Sunday, June 2, 2013

Nothing New For The Class Of 2013

I could never be a commencement speaker.

First – and most obvious – I’d never be asked. Any two-legged primate with a sign-language vocabulary of 20+ words would receive an invitation before I would.

Second – I don’t have anything to wear. At Carter’s recent high school graduation, I wondered, as I do every time I hear the strains of Pomp and Circumstance, wherever do all those teachers and commencement speakers get those gowns? My own college graduation gown was constructed of fabric so flammable that it likely would be banned from any public appearance in this century. So where to get the goods? Mortarboards ‘R Us? CapAndGownCo? TasselTown? (Poor taste. My bad.) Certainly not at my favorite store, Marshall’s, where I’ve never seen any garment in my alma mater's colors -- garnet and black. (But since we’re on the topic, “How ‘bout those Gamecocks?”)

And third – I don’t have anything to say.

And that’s a shame, because I like commencement addresses. I genuinely do. I'm inspired by those messages of reality and encouragement and energy. But what could I possibly say to 18-year-olds who, by definition, already know "everything" -- or at least, far more than I knew at that age? Nothing more sophisticated than what I preached to my then-toddlers:

Be nice.  Our world is home to some seven billion people – some generous, some powerful, some evil, some needy, some wealthy, some impoverished – and some your future employers and in-laws. You’ll make greater inroads with all of them – not to mention leading a happier, more pleasant life – if you yourself are kind and thoughtful. Indeed, “being nice” is the easiest and most certain way you can make a difference in this world.

Put that down. When you were little, you wanted to lay your sticky little fingers on all sorts of potentially dangerous items. As an 18-year-old, you now know that there are objects with far worse consequences than plastic picnic knives, fireplace pokers, and glass paperweights. You know exactly what I mean, Mister. Put that down.

Take that out of your mouth. Plainly an auxiliary to “Put that down,” this bit of advice warrants its own rule because when you’re no longer under my roof, you’ll have opportunity upon opportunity to indulge and over-indulge in substances both legal and not. You have a choice. Don’t be that guy.

Time for bed. Study upon study proves that sufficient sleep is beneficial to performance at school and at work. It makes us better thinkers. It makes us better drivers. And although you don’t need to know this just now, a good night’s sleep also makes us better parents. As a bonus, when you’re sleeping, you don’t have to consider any of the other rules, because you’re sleeping. This rule also comes with two auxiliaries which you’d be wise to bear in mind: Nothing good happens after midnight, and everyone sleeps better on clean sheets. Never doubt either.

Say you’re sorry. Apologizing doesn’t make you less of a person. Admitting you’re wrong makes you more of a person. But here’s the trick:  You’ve got to mean it. A real apology doesn’t sound as if your mom is making you say it. A real apology never begins with “I’m sorry, but.” “I’m sorry” isn’t some Dixie Cup of a phrase, easily crumpled up and tossed away.  When you say it and mean it, everybody feels better.

Use your words. I guess now is as good a time as any to admit
I don’t have eyes in the back of my head. All those times that I said I knew “exactly” what you were thinking, I was bluffing. Big time. Going forward, if you want people – friends, girlfriends, teammates, professors or employers – to understand what you need, hope and fear, well then, Bucko, you’ve got to communicate. And if “using your words” ends up helping you save your marriage or negotiate a peace accord in the Gaza Strip, all the better.

You can do it. From the time you were born, we always said, “Come on -- you can walk, run, fly to the moon, write, spell, find the cure for cancer, memorize, make friends, make good decisions.” Now that you're 18, dude, you realize that it's a choice. Make the choice. You can do it.

Give me a hug. You’re never too big, and there’s never a bad time. Now, in fact, would be just fine. Five minutes from now would be good, too.

I love you. To the moon and back. Be nice, put that down, take that out of your mouth, time for bed, say you're sorry, use your words and you can do it. Now give me a hug.
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