Thursday, June 5, 2014

"And, remember, commencement is not a conclusion, but a big inning!"

For the 45th consecutive year, no one asked me to speak at the commencement exercises at any high school, college, university, barber college or even a school of fish.

Which is fine; I would have had to have the pinstripes pressed and wear a tie, and it's getting way too hot for that.  But here are some thoughts that I would have passed along to the Class of 2014, had I been asked.

I would have opened with my notion of turning our lives upside down.  Let's figure out how long the average person gets to be retired before moving into a one-person bungalow with silver handles, and then say, OK, you just finished high school, college, whatever.  You get your retirement NOW, while you still feel like running around the world and sailing kayaks and dancing in the moonlight and dating three or four people at once and participating in IronMan competitions.  Please report to Work at age 30 and then you'll work 'til that great Hallelujah Day.

Sound good?

And I would also tell this year's graduates this simple advice, which is to pretty much forget everything you've heard about how the world is eagerly awaiting your arrival.  One of the most puzzling things about seeing young people right out of school come to work was always their expectation that they not have to do anything they deemed "beneath" them.  Their mommies had always made sure that the roads they were to travel were plowed and leveled evenly, and then they come to work with a bunch of older adults who were trying to get a job done and had little time or concern about young Brattleboro's wishes to arrive late, leave early, and have plenty of time for personal self-expression during the shift.  People are alway surprised to hear that lots of successful people started their careers sorting mail, hauling out the trash, frying a burger.  Much later in your lives, you will realize that getting to do those mundane chores is great preparation for someday owning the company where people are sorting mail, hauling out trash, frying burgers and the like.  You will understand that with what they call "experience."  We can't give that to you; you can only get it for yourselves, and we want you to get the best of it.

There is nothing much weirder than getting a phone call from the parent of a 23-year-old saying their "child" will be late for work because they were out a little late last night, but I got that call once. And the employee was completely floored when told that I needed to hear from them, not their parents, unless they also wanted their paycheck made out to their mom.

I'm afraid that young people today don't get many good examples as they set out to join the workforce.  They watch television and see fools like Donald Trump amassing fortunes, they are encouraged to believe that tawdry fiction is great literature, and they hear people bragging about cheating on their taxes, employers, spouses, and I don't know what-all else.

My advice to the graduates is to find a job that will lead to the career they seek, to remember that there is no disgrace in any honest work, and to give a good day's work for their day's pay. And remember, you can learn a lot from the people you'll spend your days with.  Assess them carefully, sort out the sneaky cheats from the industrious achievers, and follow the lead of the latter.

You can become anything you want to be.  Please want to be good.

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