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Passion and power for the Class of 2012


Last updated 5/30/2012 at Noon

My youngest nephew graduates from high school in a couple of weeks, and so my mother will once again make the trip to a small town in southern Oregon, even though she doesn’t like traveling. He’s the last one of the grandchildren, though, and she feels a need for closure.

So I’m hesitant to bring up the fact that she has a great-granddaughter who will be in middle school soon enough. Really, it’s like “Twilight” novels; they will never stop graduating until we die or run out of $20 bills.

I have to miss this particular big event, which is disappointing as it was in this very same town, at my other nephew’s high school graduation four years ago, that I heard the Best Commencement Address Ever.

There’s a pattern to these speeches, you understand. No matter how original you think you’re being, if you’re asked to give a commencement address (and for some reason I never am), you’ll probably stick to the formula.

You’ll mention that “commencement” really means “beginning,” which only every person on the planet already knows.

You’ll probably quote some long-winded diatribe against the youth of today, how they’re lazy and rude and have no morals and surely will ruin the world, and then you’ll grin and reveal that surprise, this was actually said by Aristotle. Or Thomas Jefferson, or Henry Ford, or some other person from long ago, thus pointing out that old people are jerks.

Your audience by now is all looking at their phones anyway, having heard this one before, too.

You’ll toss in another quote – or if you’re ambitious, several – from people who used to be famous but are probably not known to the graduates, clever aphorisms about finding summer in winter or failing so you can succeed (alternatively, you might tell a long story about a person who had nothing but failures, listing them one by one, and then at the end point that it was Harry Truman or Abraham Lincoln, which everyone had already guessed since they heard it at the last graduation).

And then you’ll get serious, and try to create some aphorisms of your own, and talk about how tough life is, etc. Really, you’re essentially telling these fine young people who’ve managed to endure four years of school that the fun part is over. No wonder they look forward to the parties.

So the Best Commencement Address Ever was a breath of fresh air, at least for me. And it was given by a graduating senior, to boot. She told some jokes, mostly, and then looked her fellow graduates square in eyes and told the truth.

“We all expected to be Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers by now.”

That’s it, class of 2012. That’s what I would tell you too. A lot of things don’t work out, or you grow past them, but it’s important to remember what they were. They will one day remind you of where you were once heading, and maybe help get you back on the road.

Because it IS tough out there, and even given our current economy I can tell you that it always has been. There are few openings for superheroes, and what is available is often not that exciting.

And while you’re understandably desperate to get out on your own and see the sights and do all the fun things you’ve been dreaming about, the truth is that drudgery can fill a lot of adult hours.

So take your time. Remember where you’ve been: High school is essentially a holding cell for hormones, and college is an artificial construct designed to let you experience adulthood without having to actually be an adult. Enjoy these times. You’ll eventually have to move back in with your parents anyway, so take advantage of your freedom.

And while you’re exploring heady topics, late-night discussions on the nature of everything, try to develop a sense of what you really don’t care about. Like the Oxford Comma, or vice presidents. You can save yourself a lot of time this way, and find your passion.

Passion, by the way, is the name of the game. Passion requires permission from nobody; in fact, if you have to ask advice about something you really want to do, you really don’t want to do it.

Grab a paintbrush, sit down in front of a keyboard, find your mountain and start climbing. The naysayers will just get in the way, and boy they will try.

And yeah, you’re going to fail. There are easier ways to learn, but none quicker than messing up big time and figuring out why.

That’s all I got, sorry. Mostly I would just tell jokes if I spoke at your graduation, so you’re definitely better off. But I’ve lived long enough to fail plenty of times, so I can vouch for that.

And if your heart is still set on being a Power Ranger… I say there are worse things than trying. We’re counting on you. Commence now.


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