My daughter graduates from high school tomorrow. This momentous occasion reminds me of the dreadful speeches I had to sit through at my own high school graduation, some 22 years ago. You know the kind of speeches I’m talking about, the ones where the valedictorian or student with perfect attendance or what-not gets up and stammers through some sappy, saccharine set of sentimentalism and invariably ends with some kind of prayer-cum-schoo l fight song-inspirational ditty that’s supposed to make this particular nerd somehow respected and/or admired by the rest of the graduating class, if only for a matter of minutes. The speech, and I must say I’ve heard it in various incarnations both at my own graduation, my younger brothers and sister’s graduation, and those of several sets of cousins, goes like this:
G is for gratitude …
R is for respect …
A is for achievement …
D is for dedication …
U is for unity …
and so on, with each letter receiving a focus of about 10 minutes of drivel that usually ends up with everyone feeling like their nose is a little browner, the school board is a little less evil, and the teachers really are going to miss the departing devil class one more time.
But these speeches invariably don’t offer any kind of insight into what the real world is like, or what students can really expect once they’ve left the safety of their parents’ nest and tried to find their way in the reality of paying for themselves. So maybe the speech should be more like this.
G is for groveling … which is something you’ll need to learn well, in order to make your way in a society that discourages genius, looks down on free-thinking of all sorts, and uses social and peer pressure as a means for ensuring conformity with a standard you probably will never live up to.
R is for retirement … which is something you’ll be looking forward to for the next 30 or 40 years.
A is for assholes … who you will encounter not only as employers, but as co-workers, neighbors, roommates, professors, on the commute to work, at the gym and even occasionally in your own home.
D is for debt … which from this day forward you will be encouraged to live with.
U is for underappreciated … which reflects the way you’ll feel, particularly if you are not a white male, but even then on occasion.
A is for aging … the process of which you have already begun, but like “no payments due until next fall” will not recognize for the ballooning mortgage on your life it is until you are too far gone to recover.
T is for time … which you have, until this juncture, taken for granted, thinking in relative terms that in your short lifespan, 10 years is more than half your life, and thus a long time. Ten years from now, you will be wondering where the hell the decade went, and why most of your dreams are yet to be achieved. That, my friends, is relativity.
I is for intimidation … the method by which most employers, co-workers, neighbors, roommates, professors, and other individuals classified under A above will attempt to coerce your vote, support, volunteer labor, hard-earned cash, and yard maintenance equipment.
O is for overworked … a state which you have yet to fully experience, having to this juncture most likely not been responsible for producing food, or the wherewithal to purchase food, for yourself or your dependents.
N is for never … the point in time at which you will be able to sit back, reflect on your laurels, and feel better than you do right now. So enjoy it while it lasts. Once you’re old enough to drink legally, there’s not much excuse to do so.
23 MAY 2005