I’ll probably never be asked to give a commencement address outside the hollow halls of Blogistan Polytechnic Institute. (The halls are hollow because BPI is on the intertubes.) So the high school graduates of 2010 will have to come here to hear this address.

Or not. I’m guessing not. (More)

High-Low School Part III – Congratulations, Class of 2010! (Non-Cynical Saturday)

This week Morning Feature looks back at high school. Thursday we explored some reminiscences, continuing the question “The best years of your life?” posed Tuesday by winterbanyan. Friday we considered the missing connections between the facts we learn in high school, and how that learning gave us a toolkit but couldn’t give us enough practice to know which tools to use for which life problems or how to use them well. Today we’ll celebrate this year’s graduates and the hope they offer for our future.

So please accordion-fold your programs, so you can fan yourself impatiently. And set your cellphones to ring loudly, so we’ll know if something interesting happens.

Parents, teachers, administrators, and graduates, lend me your ears.

Or don’t. Last time I said that, Vincent Van Gogh took me seriously. Obligatory lame joke to start a speech: check.

Actually I’m not that old, but looking at the students I sometimes feel that old. Someday you students will too. A lot will happen between now and then.

Many of you will go on to college, and some of you to graduate school. I hope all of you will go on learning for the rest of your lives.

Many of you will get married, and some of you more than once. I hope all of you will be able to marry the person you love. I also hope all of you will find – and give – love and acceptance in other parts of your life.

Many of you will have children. This is what we parents call “revenge.” I won’t explain that now. It would spoil the surprise.

Most of you will have jobs, and some of you will find jobs you love. I hope all of you will learn that neither your job nor your income defines your worth as a human being.

All of you will leave your tracks on history, even if much of that history will never be known outside your circle of family and friends. Some of that will be through your own carefully-laid plans. But probably not much of it. Most of it will be through how you adapt to things for which you hadn’t planned. Like having us as parents.

Sorry about the mess.

And wow have we made one. In fairness, we didn’t make all of it. Our parents made some, and their parents made some, and so on down the line back through history. Some of that was because we were young and confident, convinced we knew more than we really did. Like, say, you.

We tried to clean up some of the messes left to us. We did clean up some, but we created some others. We’ll help you with the cleanup as best we can for a few more years, but then it will be on you. And one of you may be giving a speech like this for the graduates of 2035, one of whom might be your young adult.

I hope in that speech you’ll be able to say you’ve cleaned up all of our messes and not made any of your own. But that’s an aspiration, not an expectation. You won’t clean up everything, and you’ll make some messes of your own. We’re your parents and we’ve seen your rooms, after all.

Round and round and what’s the point?

If that sounded like history repeats itself, generation after generation, you may be wondering what’s the point. And you may be thinking this is where I make a fool of myself by pretending to explain the meaning of life. Since I’d hate to disappoint you, here goes….

Life is the meaning of life. The lives you touch, for good or for ill. Those who touch your life, for good or for ill. The ways you make another’s life a little better, or you don’t. The ways you notice and thank those who do that for you, or you don’t. The ways you apologize to those you hurt, and forgive those who hurt you, or you don’t. Those lives improved – or not – are the meaning of your life. The rest is details.

Those details matter. The dreams you have, the plans you make, and the ways you try to carry them out. The ways you prepare yourself, as you’ll need to. The times you go on when you want to give up, as you’ll want to. The picking yourself up when you fall down, as you will. The learning not to fall that particular way again, as you must. Some will make you smile. Others will make you cry. Some will make you proud. Others will make you regret.

The details matter, and at times it will seem as if it’s all details. But it isn’t. Don’t get so caught up in your dreams and plans, your preparations and goings on, your picking yourself up, your learning, your smiles and tears, your prides and regrets, that you forget about touching others’ lives for good. Forget that and you’ll be touching others’ lives for ill. That’s how it works.

The messes you clean up and the messes you make. The lives you touch for good or for ill. Those will be your tracks on history, and the meaning of your life.

Come to think of it, there’s a good reason I wasn’t asked to give your commencement address. This speech needs an ending. But I don’t have one. That’s for you to write.


Happy Saturday!