Nevertheless, thanks to the power of the press and the reach of social media, this column can tell the educrats “Pfffftttt!” and deliver a commencement address anyway. So here’s some advice this year’s graduates should hear instead of the usual platitudes.
Graduates, as I look upon your young faces, I see relief, hope, boredom and the occasional bejeweled piercing. Tonight marks a milestone for you. Tonight, childhood is officially over. Yes, I know, most of you stopped being children long ago, but now the world will stop treating you as such. You are no longer “just a high school kid,” with the built-in excuses and lowered expectations that entails. The world will demand more of you. It will offer you more opportunities, but at the same time it will judge you more harshly.
Many, if not most, of you are bound for college, and the unfortunate fact is that some of you won’t last long. I’m not being pessimistic, just honest. Living away from home for the first time will bring you unprecedented freedoms, the foremost being the freedom to make nearly unlimited bad choices. Colleges offer degrees in many areas of study, but you would do well to remember that no one ever earned a bachelor’s in partying.
And speaking of degrees, it just makes sense to major in something that will actually be useful. Yes, it’s important to pursue your passions and do what you love. However, it’s far more important to eat at least once a day, and it’s much easier to accomplish that with a degree in IT instead of ancient Sumerian poetry. If you love ancient Sumerian poetry passionately, well then minor in it and hope for a job in the field eventually, but major in something you can make a living at immediately. In other words, have a backup plan.
Partying and useless majors aren’t the only potential dangers awaiting you in college. Another one is a four-letter word: L-O-V-E. Many people meet their future spouses on campus. Too often these quickly become future ex-spouses.
There’s nothing wrong with love, but for goodness’ sake don’t get married until you have that degree in hand and a job to go with it. Contrary to that simplistic Beatles’ song, love is not all you need. Not by a long shot. As Lemmy, the world’s greatest bass player/philosopher, observed, “Love can’t buy you money.” It can’t buy anything else either. Under the right circumstances, marriage can be a wonderful thing. However, having no job, education or plan is no sane person’s idea of the right circumstances. No doubt you think your relationship will be the exception, but remember that Las Vegas was built by people who just knew they were special enough to beat the odds.
Most commencement speakers will tell you that tonight is both an ending and a beginning. And that’s true, as far as it goes. Your high school career is indeed ending, and although you probably don’t realize it yet, so are most of your high school friendships. That’s sad in a way, but it’s also inevitable as your classmates scatter to the four winds in order to walk their own paths in life. Change can be unnerving and unwelcome, but it’s necessary for us to grow and achieve our potential. The alternative is stasis and stagnation.
Yes, tonight is a beginning, but your lives will be full of beginnings. In fact, every day your feet hit the floor is a beginning. Make the most of all of them.
Roger Davis is a Kingsport Times-News columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.