Another year of high school commencement ceremonies cometh and goeth, and againth I was not asked to speak at any of them.
Graduates, count your blessings.
I say this because, unlike the school benefactors and politicians whose words you didn’t pay attention to because of your preoccupation in learning the whereabouts of the nearest keg party, I would have brought to your lectern one vital thing: experience. (And also the knowledge that it’s a lectern and NOT a podium, but that’s another speech.)
Experience gained not through the trials and tribulations of what hackneyed speakers refer to as “the real world.” No. I would have brought you the experience of a know-it-all whippersnapper much like yourself. A parentally pampered smart-ass who gained his experience from once giving a completely forgettable address at his own high school graduation.
See, graduates, back in the day, I was the salutatorian of my high school. I know Latin and peer competition are no longer part of your curricula, so let me explain what that means. “Salutatorian” comes from the Greek, meaning “student with 4.0 GPA who goofed off by taking Intro to Fitted Sheet Folding rather than AP European History senior year.”
Can I get a “woot, woot” for senioritis?
My reward for being first-place loser: serving as the opening act for the kid who beat me in class ranking. I would stand before my peers, their parents and relatives and give the welcoming remarks while she did the closing speech.
And, graduates, did those remarks suck.
Well, I’m pretty sure they did. I burned the only copy of my speech some years ago because I couldn’t bear to look at its index-card awfulness. All I remember about my speech was:
1) It was bad enough in rehearsal that our principal asked me to rewrite it so it would not be so negative — I mean, so it would be more positive. Or did she say to not to be so sarcastic? I was 18 at the time, so probably both.
2) It quoted The Who’s Pete Townshend. I don’t remember the exact quote but I’m positive, and thankful — though you may not be — that it was not “hope I die before I get old.”
My speech was bad enough that none of the local newspapers quoted it the next day. And, believe you me, local newspapers will print anything.
The reporters did, however, praise our class valedictorian’s speech. Her inspiring address drew on the self-help, be your own person, power-of-positive-thinking teachings of Richard Bach’s classic fable “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” Last I heard, those ideals have served her well. Thirty-something years later, our valedictorian is still outdoing me … in both divorces and DUI arrests.
So what exactly would I do to redeem myself if given the chance to speak before an audience of impressionable young minds eager to learn the whereabouts of the nearest keg party? I’d offer some practical tips:
- Never buy a trendy business management book. “The One-Minute Manager,” “The Six Sigma,” “Who Moved My Cheese Then Cut It?” — they all say the same things. Listen to people. Thank and reward those who do right. Distance yourself from those who don’t. Instead, I say: Write your own trendy management book and sell it to your classmates who didn’t pay attention to this speech.
- Lawn care. Mostly avoid it. If you have the means, hiring someone to do it for you will be stimulating the economy as well as your fescue. However, if you must do it yourself, then mow in the summer, rake the leaves in the fall, maybe do a little fertilizing before and after. That’s all. Rather than hand-pulling every little weed, revel in your yard’s celebration of diversity.
- Use your fingers on something other than your smartphone. Try learning how to give a good massage. Your future spouse will thank you. And not by text.
- And finally, learn the “rule of threes.”
So, graduates — if you leave here remembering only one thing from this speech that will be one more thing than most of your classmates remember, especially those who already found the location of the kegger.
But if you do walk away with just one thing, let it be this: Take my advice — don’t listen to me.