Thursday, June 6, 2013

Commencement Speaking

It's graduation season.  Time to celebrate all the hard work and dedication.  Time to look back and look ahead.
And graduate.
It takes courage and hard work to graduate mr. cummings. 

And give speeches.

I graduated twice, once from high school and once from college.  It was before preschool graduations (I went to something called nursery school and I think we napped a lot) and elementary school graduations.  I'm not saying there is anything wrong with the current trend of doing a lot of graduating. My own son will celebrate his fifth grade/elementary school graduation next week. (wait, whhhhaaaat?!?) I'm just saying I predate them.

My high school graduation was fine.  My college graduation was fine.  Both were clouded with a bit of family drama.  But they were fine, mostly happy not overly done events.
Tim gets to give a speech at a graduation.  He's a high school principal.  Here he is practicing his speech at dinner last night.

Graduation season is also a time for sappy songs and good speeches.  

I was never valedictorian, or even close, so I was never asked to give a commencement speech.  I am not famous, or even close, so I have never been asked to give a commencement speech.  But graduation/commencement speeches are a little like Oscar speeches, we should all have one ready to go at any moment.  Just like the list of people who you'd thank for your Academy Award (don't forget your spouse!), you should have a list of advice to the young hopeful, eager students ready to blast into their future.

Last Sunday was the last day of class for an adult Sunday School  I teach at my church (a group we started called Time Out, for parents of mostly tweens that was started when our tweens were babies).  Nothing was planned and I thought it would be an appropriate time to pull out my commencement speech.  So, in front of a small group in a small room in my church in a suburb of Detroit I gave my advice.  And yes, I played Pomp and Circumstance on my iPhone while I read the speech with great passion.  

Here's how it went:

I was ready to move on.  I’m always ready to move on.  High school graduation couldn’t come fast enough.  I was over all the mean girls, the bad memories, the overbearing teachers, the tests, the rules, the work, the bullsh*t that was high school.

I packed everything I owned in my Mazda MX-3, which is really small, so you know I didn’t own a lot of stuff at 17.  I loaded up the jam box with my favorite CDs, put up the sun roof and hit the open road.  Making my way to something bigger, better, well at least different.  I was driving to Nebraska from Michigan, let’s keep it real, it wasn’t like I was heading to Hollywood or anything.

But here’s the thing, it wasn’t about celebrating where I’d been, it was about getting out, moving on, being done.

I’ve always enjoyed the leaving part.  Windows down, wind blowing in my hair, not a care in the world.  Excited about new people, new places, new adventures.

College was the same.  I worked my butt off to get decent grades and a degree in communications.  What can you do with a degree in communications you ask?  Same question my father had incidentally.  I went to the college that Tim Allen had attended years earlier.  The college where Tim was working toward a degree in communications, before he was busted for all kinds of drugs, but I digress.  One of my professors talked about his prize pupil Tim Allen, a lot.  Please note that my college years were when Allen’s show Home Improvement was hugely popular on television.  My professor would tell stories about “well when Tim was in class he used to....” or “when Tim was my student he would....”  Some kids rolled their eyes.  I widened mine thinking “holy #*@& I can be just like Tim Allen, minus the jail time hopefully.”

I couldn’t wait to graduate.  I took extra classes, worked three jobs and did my best to get out in four years.  When graduation day came, I once again was ready to move on.  I was over the sorority girls, the bad memories, the overbearing campus police, the tests, the rules, the work, the bullsh*t that was college.

I was ready to be the next Tim Allen.   I loaded up the Mazda with a little more stuff than four years earlier and hit the road.  Making my way to the land where my dreams would come true, okay let’s keep it real, I was heading to Pittsburgh.  But dreams are realized in Pittsburgh.  What? They are.

The next few years were good, they weren’t glamorous, but they were good.  I didn’t get any sitcom deals, but I lived a good life making $16,000 in a nonprofit job.  Yes, I was living large.  But I was ready to move on.   Pittsburgh is a great town, but it has a lot of old people.  When I lived there, it was the largest reported mass exodus of “young people” in the city’s history.  So, you guessed it, I was ready to move on too.

I met Tim, fell in love and got the hell out of the steel city.  Yes, um, I, er, upgraded to Detroit, the motor city. 

By this point my Mazda had been stolen on the mean streets of Pittsburgh and I was driving a Parisienne that my brother-in-law had given his wife’s idealistic (code word for poor) kid sister.  A kid sister with a dream of a new life and love.  I loaded up that Parisienne with all my belongings and hit the road.  

Tim and I quickly built a life, a family, a home.  And then something really strange happened, I didn’t want to move on and hit the road.  I never wanted it to end.  In fact, it was all going too fast.  Instead of wishing it away, I was screaming for time to stop so I could live in this moment forever.

Over the past 15 years together, there have been ups and downs.  Moments where I wanted to hit the road (when the babies wouldn’t stop crying all.night.long.) and moments where I wanted to freeze time (those rare moments when all kids are happy and not fighting or whining).

But that is the lesson I wish I would have known in high school and college, I wish I would have been more in the moment and not been quite so ready to move on.   Yes there will be mean girls (people) forever, too many rules, too many have tos, too much work and it might all feel like bullsh*t sometimes, but it’s fleeting.  We all have to move on, I just wish I would’ve held onto some of the good that happened, because there was good.  There were obstacles hurdled, laughs, loves, lessons, good times.

As we move on to our next chapter, the next highway of life I am grateful to be in this space.  I am grateful that we have a group of people to rely on, to laugh with, to reveal our selves and our worries, to be real with, to love.  Any minute now, I’m going to stand on a desk and shout “Carpe Diem” like Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society because I love this moment.  Or maybe I’ll start chanting “Donna Martin graduates” like all the cool kids on 90210 because that’s what I think should be done at a graduation-type/feeling situation.

The whole point?  This moment is ours, let’s really be in it.  Life is going by fast, our kids are going to be the ones giving high school graduation speeches (because you know, all of our kids WILL be the valedictorians and be the speakers of course), don’t wish it away.

And I thank each of you for taking a Time Out almost every Sunday, or maybe just one Sunday for some of you, this year. Thank you for sharing your lives, your moments.  

I will end on this note...we are at the age where we’ve seen a lot of life, we know things, but we’re not done.  We are pretty much in the middle, middle age.  We know enough to do better and still have so much time to start over and over and over and have so many moments.  Our future is bright, people.

[drops the mic, throws up cap]

What's your graduation/commencement speech?  What's the advice you'd give to the youths of the world?

It wouldn't be a graduation season without watching this.  Classic.

It's almost the season of reunions for all the old people that graduated a million years ago.  If you are headed to a reunion this summer and need some advice on what not to do, check out my tutorial.  It's from my experience at my 20th high school reunion last year.

1 comment:

  1. You stood on the table to read that, didn't you? With your music playing from the tiny phone speaker. Heehee! Love it. I graduated from eight grade (my first real fancy dress), high school, and college twice. I would be a terrible speech-giver, and I don't remember anything about the speeches given. I bet you totally rock, though!