OK, here is what I remember about my high school graduation (North Iredell High School, Class of 1978. Yeah….long time ago…..stuns me, too.)
- My friend Regina Bridges (Dawson) was salutatorian. Sorry Regina, but I do not remember one word of your speech. I am sure if we dug it out, though, we could find ways you inspired my life! But let’s face it…..you inspired my life more just by being my friend all of these years. But you looked really good up there….I do remember that.
- It rained….or threatened to rain…..so we had to move the whole thing indoors. Which meant that none of what we had rehearsed worked quite the same.
- While your row sat down, the row in back of you was filing out toward the stage. Chris Rehardt was not behind me in rehearsal, but now inside was on that row. He went by and as I was very daintily sitting down, he pulled my chair out from under me. All of my stuff went flying. I did not fall down (probably because we were so crammed in there, there was no room to fall.) Still, I made a scene and Chris laughed all the way up to the stage and when he was getting his diploma. I am glad someone was entertained. (And OK….as much as a jerk he was, it was well timed. I concede the point.)
College graduation (UNC-CH, Class of 1982) came and I did not want to go to the ceremony. My mother insisted…..she said they had paid for my college, and by golly, they were going to see me graduate. I am sure they probably regretted it since a Carolina graduation is a madhouse. But thankfully they don’t hand out diplomas. I remember two things from this graduation. One of my fellow RTVMP broadcast journalism majors was our class president. Knowing him well, I did a lot of head shaking and eye rolling during his speech. Won’t go into why, but probably did impact my feelings of politicians. The only other thing I remembered was the bottles of champagne coming down the rows. Our own little communion. When you are a proud graduate of the School of Radio, Television, and Motion Pictures (now defunct), you start preparing for real life even during the ceremony. (Note: I was a broadcast journalism major…..which, of course, is a slight bit classier the other RTVMP majors. Shhhhh…. don’t tell anyone I said that.)
I also remember running into my favorite professor on our walk through campus after the ceremony. He looked quite distinguished in his black faculty robe, and I shocked my mom when I took off running and essentially jumped in his arms and hugged him. Evidently they don’t do that sort of thing with teachers in Wales. He was my tough as nails editing teacher in the Journalism school…..and he succeeded in finally teaching me how to learn to spell the word “license.” He had claimed I could spell it any way but the right one. He was what all people should be as teachers….devoted to making sure you got it right, encouraging but also disappointed when you weren’t living up to your potential, and a real guy who also shared his real life with us. He had exceptional skills as a journalist…..and he wanted us to be even better than him. (Yea for Mr. Raleigh Mann!)
In between then and now I have attended way too many graduation ceremonies. You really don’t have to invite me to yours. I will be happy to just attend the party or celebrate later…or even not at all! Most are horrid and meaningless. Let’s be honest.
I was so happy today that North Iredell seems to have mastered the graduation. It’s early morning, so you aren’t there in the worst of the heat and you still have time afterwards for your day. It gives kids times to celebrate a bit, but then hit the road for the beach and arrive in daylight. The ceremony was about as short as it could be, but almost exclusively about the kids and not some long-winded faculty member. And it was in many ways simply a celebration for a bunch of good kids….who I think are going to do great things for our world. A meaningful graduation.
So since they didn’t ask me to give a speech, at either NIHS or Carolina, here are a few words of advice for the great graduates of 2012 (and anyone else who may need to have a little mental graduation of their own!):
- Keep the optimism, keep the joy. People will try to steal it from you, and things will happen to make you think life isn’t that great, but I promise you….it really, really is. When life seems bad, regroup and refresh. Take a look around you at the people who seem old (even those that are your age.) They are generally the people who prefer to lead with pessimism. Don’t let them impact you. Avoid them if necessary. Hang as much as possible with the people who find reasons to smile at life. But not those who fake smile. They should annoy you.
- Be bold. Go for all of the good things the world has to offer you. When you feel like hanging back remember this verse “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Tim. 1:7. Focus not on the desire to hang back, but focus on those gifts of power, love, and self-discipline. Much can come from putting them into action. They are the answer to a lot of the questions in life.
- Explore the nouns of the world – The people, the places, the things….there is so much out there. The nouns of the real world will bring you much pleasure…..and there are a lot out there to explore.
- Confront the negatives. You will face what appear to be overwhelming obstacles. Do not walk away. Find a way around them, over them, or through them. Be creative. Be fearless. Be smart. When you win these battles, you will find they give you extra strength and confidence that will be useful as you attack the next negative. And there will always be another negative!
- Don’t necessarily let your wrapping be a box. Boxes are confining. And require that you conform to them. Sometimes they may be how you present yourself, because sometimes it pays to appear normal and respect the rules and convention. But sometimes you need to pop out of a gift bag and surprise people with who you are and who you can be. Other times you have to wrap yourself in cellophane so people can see the gift you are without having to unwrap it. Whichever form you take, be a beautiful package. Make it your goal to be a gift to the world…..whether people notice it or not.
- Develop your character. I won’t ever tell you that it doesn’t matter what people think about you, because frankly it does. Still, the person you are when no one is looking is where your character is found. That is actually what defines who you are. Hit the fender of someone’s car in a parking lot? Don’t just drive away. The boss isn’t around at work? Work hard anyway. Have the opportunity to cheat at something and never get caught? Don’t do it. Character building is a lifelong discipline….but it’s like an exercise. If you start now, and make it part of who you are, your strength of character will be of Olympic proportions one day. Let that be a goal.
- Watch your money. My prayer for you is that you have to work hard for every dollar and get to know the value of working for everything you have. So many kids today never seem to have to do that and I feel they are being shortchanged. The truth is that you deserve nothing you haven’t worked for. And sometimes you need to work for free. There is great value in hard work. So work hard. Make your own money….and use it for good things.
- Care about debt. I’d say that a good plan is to not spend anything you haven’t already earned. But if you must borrow money, pay it back. I don’t care if you borrowed it from your parents, family members, a friend, a stranger, a credit card company, a business, someone with tons of money to spare, or someone you have lost track of….find a way to pay it back. We’ve become careless with debt and even your own country buys things it doesn’t have the money for. Be a good example to our government and everyone else in our world. Always think of interest as your rental fee for money….and fully check out the full cost of that rental before you enter that arrangement. But once you do….pay what you agreed. Even if you didn’t know what you were getting into in the first place.
- Don’t make excuses. There will always be someone to blame. Just don’t. Accept responsibility for your actions and be strong enough to see that your decisions lead to your consequences. Don’t bore people with the details.
- Take care of your body. You know more about health and fitness than any other generation that has come before you. Don’t be stupid. Cherish that body you have been given and keep it healthy for the long term.
- Build community. You can struggle through life on your own, or you can realize you weren’t placed on this earth in a bubble. Life is more fun shared, and burdens are much easier. Notice other people, and let them get to know you. Volunteer to help others whenever you can. Ask for help if you need it. But often more valuable is to ask them to teach you how to do things in case you need to do it yourself in the future.
- Learn when to say no and when to say yes. Little words that mean so very much. Don’t be a wimp. Use them carefully!
- “Dance with the one who brung ya” – In other words, don’t forget who you got you to this place. Along the way in life there are people who invested in your life, be it family, friends, teachers and in some cases strangers. When the bright and shiny new people come along, don’t forget they are there. Most of all, though, you were created by God. Don’t forget Him. Or if you haven’t met yet, get to know Him. Not as a friend of a friend, or as a friend of the family, but have your own relationship. That’s the only one that counts.
I wish I had been a bit more open to all of the possibilities of the world at both of my graduations. I’m still learning. I wish I would have thrown that cap up in the air a bit higher…..but I didn’t want to lose the cap. But maybe I should have…..because graduation in itself means little. It is just a ceremony that says “You have earned a new tool. You are MacGyver. You may use this tool, or you may find something else that gets the job done better. You are smart. You are savy. You are the star of your own show. But your show can be cancelled at any time, so work as hard as you can so that when it is over, you can look back at it and have it be something that makes you proud.” (And yes, dear graduates, I understand that you may not know MacGyver. That is your next assignment. Talk to the old people or look him up on Youtube! And yes, he was cute. But he was better than that….he was smart and useful and looked out for the needs of others!)