Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Few Words to the Class of 2009

Whether you are graduating from kindergarten, high school or college, you will likely endure a graduation speech, given by someone whose name you will not remember in 20 years. Unless, of course, you graduated from my alma mater and were privileged enough to hear the nuggets of wisdom imparted by Mr. Bo Jackson last Saturday. (Click here. An aside to this: The time that Bo and I attended Auburn overlapped by a few quarters. It was a long time ago. Auburn was still on the quarter system. He once held the door open for me at Beard-Eaves in the middle of the day. I said, "Thanks, Bo." I wonder if he remembers it as I do.)

Now I'm no Heisman Trophy winner, nor am I arguably one of the greatest athletes of all times, but I will own a high school graduate in exactly one year, and I have spent an inordinate amount of time listing all the things that I need either to teach or reinforce in the one year she will still be at home. It's a very panicky feeling. I hate it, really. I've given some thought to writing a commencement speech just for her, delivering it from the hearth in the living room, but for now, it's only a makeshift list.

This list does not include the many things that she simply chooses to ignore. Like the importance of recording debits in a check register. Or why cereal bowls shouldn't be left on a bedroom dresser for days on end.

No, this is a separate and distinct list of Things That a High School Graduate Should Know So That She Has a Fulfilling and Independent Life and Doesn't Make Bonehead Mistakes.

We prefer that our kids make their bonehead mistakes here at home, so that we can watch them fall, then pick them up and brush them off.

Perhaps you'll find some merit in this list, which is written for the general audience. In no particular order:

Don't drink the Kool-Aid. Prisons are full of people who followed a leader or tried to fit in.

Failure doesn't signal the end of the world. Kids don't get to experience enough failure these days. I'm not talking about the kind of failure that makes you repeat a grade or lands you in a youth home. Just the run-of-the-mill failure that might leave you off the invitation list for the class pizza party or prevent your grandmother from giving you $10 at report card time. Too many kids will never know the joy of making a 'C,' only to regroup and pull out an 'A' by the end of the next nine weeks. If you are heading off to college but weren't fortunate enough to experience a little failure while living at home because your parents may have hovered too much, I hope you have a tolerant and forgiving roommate.

Change the oil in your car every 5,000 miles.

Get a dog. A dog can teach you a little something about humility. Just ask my friend David, whose Great Dane once suffered a pretty severe stomach virus on top of the a/c vent.

Stand out. Don't text everything. Send the occasional old-fashioned e-mail. Make a phone call. On a landline. Buy an overpriced stamp and mail a letter.

Watch out for the "have-to" things in this world. Like choosing china and crystal patterns. (These are not really important decisions, no matter what your mother says.)

Make new friends. You would think young people don't need to be reminded of this, but you would be wrong. I learned years ago that a person's friends don't form one big circle. They make circles. Some friends fit nicely into one of many circles, but the reality is that some circles will never intersect. Don't need to intersect.

True story: My husband and I met in college, but our circles never intersected. We later worked together, and I asked him, "Why didn't you hang in my circle in college?"

"Eh, I had enough friends." And while that seemed like the rudest answer in the world, it was an appropriate answer from an immatu . . . I mean, a young man who didn't yet know the value and honor of having many circles, rather than just one big circle. He has long since mended his ways and recognizes that juggling many circles has its rewards. One of my friends (from my "school circle") said she follows the same policy. She called these "concentric circles," which is a more accurate illustration because concentric circles share a center. My mental picture of friend circles had always been a collection of independent circles, but thanks to this school friend, I see that "concentric" might be the way to go. (See? Yet another advantage of having many circles. Some of my circles might not want to talk about "concentric vs. independent," but this member of the school circle did, thereby highlighting the importance of diversity.)

Major in a subject you enjoy, not endure. That's pretty big talk from an English major who is spending her Wednesday night writing a blog for no pay, but it's a pretty good rule of thumb.