The anti-graduation speech
Ann Q. Peters
It’s graduation time, which means it’s time for graduation speeches, and lots of advice, all of which will be ignored by the intended recipients. Do you remember your own high school or college commencement address? Do you even remember who the speaker was?
I recently asked some twenty-somethings what advice they would give to the newly-minted grad, and here’s what they said:
“Be terrified of the future.” “Don’t be a Philosophy major. Just pick something that will get you a job.” “Read books now, before King Trump burns them all.” “Get a Canadian boyfriend or girlfriend.”
OK, maybe they were being facetious, but the truth is that when you’re just starting out, the future does look terrifying and unreal. You have to be about halfway through or more before you have enough perspective to see that things do work out, and that the events that looked like disasters were actually turning points that led you to where you are today.
One thing I’ve learned as a parent is that you can’t want something for your children that they don’t want for themselves. My dad described his mother’s hopeless attempts to make him learn a musical instrument. She tried piano, violin, trumpet; it didn’t matter, he just had no musical talent. Then when he got to high school, he joined the choir, because what he really liked was to sing.
I desperately wanted my younger son to learn to swim when he was about six years old, but he refused. No matter how much I pleaded and cajoled, he was not going to put his head in the water. My mom tried to tell me how futile my attempts were, saying, “He’ll do it when he’s ready.” And you know what? She was right, and she knew she was right because she had made the same mistake with my brother when he was that age.
I recently came across an article entitled, “When trying to fix the problem, becomes the problem.” In it The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner recalled being told by a supervisor, “I’m not sure that your attempt to inflict help on others is what they are wanting from you.” Exactly. Listen, be sympathetic, and let them figure it out for themselves, because that’s what they’re going to do anyway.
So instead of giving advice to the graduates at commencement, how about we give advice to the parents instead?
Trust that you raised them right, and let them go out and find their own way. Don’t bail them out. Keep your mouth shut and your door open. When they’re ready to listen to your advice, they’ll ask you.
Of course it doesn’t hurt to offer love, encouragement, and free meals along the way.