2011-05-11 / Opinions & Letters

Midwest Memo

A postscript for the graduate
by Alan Shultz

The wind gusted indignantly Sunday afternoon as rain poured down on the festive red and white striped tent perched in the middle of the lush green back yard.

Carefully avoiding the soggy, muddy, perimeter, we graduation party guests clustered closely together towards the middle of the temporary canvas structure.

Though careful party planning proved no match for Mother Nature’s unseasonable agenda, the hosts and guests celebrated nonetheless. We all simply chose to enjoy ourselves in spite of the wet, gray weather.

The conscious act of choosing to celebrate life, no matter what situations or circumstances one encounters, is a priceless lesson for this year’s graduates to ponder.

Yet recognizing that one always has the power of personal choice is a lesson of basic truth that often is treated as somehow dated and slightly out of fashion in the spin put on popular reporting of our contemporary society.

I look forward to hearing and reading graduation commencement speeches this time of year.

It seems to me that this annual public rite of educational passage represents a time when the fundamental building blocks of what is good about mankind and society can be joyously proclaimed from the podium at the front of the auditorium.

For my own graduates, I wish there could be two commencement programs to attend. The first gathering would be the traditional one with cap and gown, an audience of family and friends and pure inspiration from the lectern in front.

The second program would be held outside on the school lawn. The dress code would be blue jeans. The seating arrangements would require each graduate to sit next to someone they had chosen to ignore or not associate with for their four years of school. No audience would be present. The speaker would have a megaphone to bellow out the parting message so that all could hear. The message would go something like this:

“For four years you have chosen to ignore the person seated next to you. You have based this decision on outward appearances - skin color, ethnic background, religion, fashion, athletic ability, financial or social status, popularity. The basis of your decision is immaterial - it does not matter.

“But there is a lesson to be learned from each person with whom we come in contact. There was a lesson to be learned from knowing, in some small way, the person seated next to you.

“You intentionally chose to take a pass on making that lesson your own. The loss is yours, only yours. The opportunity is now gone.

“Rather than fail you on this lesson, you are being given an “incomplete.” This grade is given because, realize it or not, this particular course will be repeated over and over again throughout your entire life. The instructors and subject matter will change, but the lesson will be the same.

“You do not deserve the entire blame for this incomplete grade. Our society is absolutely awash in materialism. Popular culture celebrates things more than thoughts - property more than people.

“You’ve made some decisions based on a lifetime of commercial messages meant to sell you something. But you have a lifetime ahead to rethink much of this through yourself. Your real education continues even as we gather here today.

“My advice to you today is rooted in a simple lesson you leaned early on in your study of English. Live your life so it is full of verbs - read, explore, question, struggle. Defend the truth. Serve others. Be kind.

“Take this last chance to shake the hand of the stranger next to you. That lesson alone will serve you well.

“Congratulations.”

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