There is nothing quite as awful as feeling you’ve been cheated out of something due to you. Like when Susan the brainiac cheats you out of being Valedictorian of your graduating class. Okay, sure, you made all Ds in Mrs. Diddles 3rd period Chemistry class, but you know that grades alone do not tell the whole story.
You work hard for every grade. Well, mostly. Susan is a twerp who has never really had to work for grades at all. You have a winning smile and charming personality that makes most people warm right up to you. Susan has a personality of a buzzard’s nest. The vote for top of the class does not consider all the finer qualities that a young person like yourself might possess.
The real stinker this year is that you have been cheated out of more than just a gesture of recognition. Fancy colored cords hanging from your gown. A chance to stand up in front of your peers and their parents so you can studder through a 5 minute speech that no one will remember. Who really wants to be Valedictorian anyway?
You have been cheated out of an entire graduation ceremony. You have worked your tail off the last 4 years. It hasn’t been perfect. Except maybe the dead rat you put in Johnny’s locker during PE. It hasn’t been your best effort, but it has been an effort worth something. And for that, it feels like what you’re getting is a sack of rocks when you were expecting maybe the keys to a new Chevy.
First of all, let me tell you how sorry I am for you. This is really a rotten deal. What I have to say is intended for my nephew Austin, for my friend’s daughter Leslie Ann, for Joey and for Heather and for all 40 zillion members of the high school graduating class of 2020. You’ll need this. You won’t exactly agree with it right now, but tuck it away somewhere in the back of your brain, because one day you’ll remember I said this and you’ll say, “Hey, that old dude was right.”
Just because life is unfair, it does not mean that you will not survive this. I hate it that you won’t get to walk across the stage. That you won’t get to toss your cap in the air in unison with all your buddies. I hate it that you feel cheated out of something that you have counted on for so long.
But know this. All the ceremony fades away pretty fast. I know you’d kill your sister’s little yeppy dog for it right now if it meant you’d be able to have a real ceremony, but it’s not worth it. You know what I remember about my graduation? Two things. It was in the high school gym and it was hotter than the hood of my Dad’s old Ford truck sitting out in the parking lot. I have no idea who spoke to us. I don’t remember our principal putting my diploma in my hand. I don’t even remember where I put my diploma at this point.
Look, I know it’s a big deal. Graduation should be. But just because it’s not for you this year with all this crazy pandemic stuff going on, don’t let that ruin your life and turn you into some kind of psycho rabid raving useless madder than diddly-squat teenager. You have bigger fish to fry.
Besides handing out diplomas, the main event at graduation is the commencement speech. It’s called that because you are about to leave behind all the comforts of home with free rent, free food, and all the free time on your hands that you can stand, and commence on a new life all your own where nothing is free and time gets away from you like water pouring over a cliff. You commence, and the next thing you know you’re getting notices about your 20 year reunion that will be held down at the VFW Club. Bring a hot dish and BYOB.
I can’t help you with the ceremony, but maybe I can help you with the commencement speech. A lot of famous people have given these speeches. I did a little research. Kermit the Frog delivered the speech to the graduates of South Hampton College in 1991. In 2015, one well known actor gave a ten minute speech at the University of Houston for a mere $135, 000, and them commenced to laugh all the way to the bank. Some have given these speeches in exchange for honorary degrees or having libraries named after them.
I’m not famous and I’m not looking for anything in return, and best of all my speech here is free. And you know what they say about free? If I just lost you ask your parents.
My first piece of advice applies to your life right now, not out in the future. Make sure you have paid up all your school fees. Seriously. My third cousin’s best friend’s stepbrother got an empty folder when he walked across the stage. He owed a $1.17 on a library fine for never returning a copy of the Great Gatsby, and for that they held back his diploma. He checked it out to try and steal a quote from it for his Senior Lit term paper and lost the book. This was before the internet, which to you is like being before dinosaurs.
But to get down to business. And at the risk of sounding corny. Your future is in your hands. No missing graduation ceremony can steal that from you. You’ve had a ton of experience that you can turn into something good whether or not you ever walk across a stage for a piece of paper with an embossed stamp on it.
The whole point of high school is to put in the work, stay the course, take some of the book learning with you and take as much of the good influences of your teachers with you as you can. Things like, work ethic. Don’t ever be afraid of hard work. If you are going to do something you can be proud of over your lifetime, it will take work and lots of it. There are always kids who think that work is stupid, but you’re not one of them. Sweat a little. Put in the hours. Get your hands dirty. Use your head for something besides a place to stick your earbuds. If you want it to happen bad enough, and are willing to work for it, it will come.
Value honesty and integrity above most any other character in your bag. Nobody likes a liar. Nobody likes a person who is dealing under the table all the time. The most valuable possession you have that no one can take from you is your reputation. Be the guy or gal that the banker would loan money to any time, for any reason, no questions asked. Be straight up at all times. Look people in the eye so they know that you speak the truth. Follow through on what you say you’ll do and do a jam up job of it. Be first class. Always. It will serve you well.
I saved my favorite tip for last. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You cannot avoid mistakes. So learn to embrace them and learn from them. If you let fear run your life, you’ll never take a chance on anything. That one chance that might lead to the best thing you’ll ever do. But know this, as soon as you take a chance, you are going to make mistakes. So what! Your parents made dumb mistakes, and if they tell you they didn’t, you have my permission to say, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” A mistake, if you pay attention, will teach you more than 10 diplomas and will be twice as valuable.
Well, I’ve got more, but I’m out of time. I’m pulling for you, Class of 2020. I know you’re disappointed. I know you feel cheated. But I’ve got faith in you. Stage or no stage, you’re going to do just fine. So, get out there. Commence on life. The world is waiting for you.
And just so you know. Dead rats in high school are funny. Not so much at work, in case you’re wondering.