‘A Far Cry From What We Have Today’: A Commencement Speech for 2017

Good morning, graduates.

As I’ve been known to do things different than others, I’m going to speak to your parents and relatives. As someone whose attended such celebrations, I know most of your heads aren’t going to be here. Back in the day, we were thinking about the party last night and the ones that will follow as soon as you have that diploma in hand and you are officially finished with that 16-plus year education nightmare.

Today, you have smartphones in many of your hands, so you’ll check out. We get that.

Parents and relatives of your proud graduates. I’d like to talk to you about those conversations you’ll have when your children return home for the holidays — let me put a hold on that for a second.

Remember when we were growing up and our parents said something to the effect, “If you can’t live by our rules, you can move out”? Back in the day, we couldn’t wait to move out. A far cry from what we have today.

Halfway through my freshman year as a journalism major, I was offered a job to work in the press office for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I had worked for them the previous two summers on the stage crew at Tanglewood, hooked them up with some graphics when they were in a pinch and they kept me in mind when they had an opening. I was going to make $18,000 a year, which was good money in the late 70’s. So, I got a studio in the Piano Factory, an apartment complex for performing and visual artists; a seven-minute walk to Symphony Hall. They wanted to see a portfolio, I showed them some of my drawings, at 18 had a job with the BSO and I was accepted in days. So, I was just waiting for the next time my dad said, “If you can’t live by the rules in this house, you’re free to leave.”

“Well, it just so happens….”

On moving day, my best friend showed up with his Dodge Dart and while I was loading up, he gave me a brand new 16-inch Toshiba color TV with a headphone jack so I could plug it into my stereo. I had a stereo, TV. What else did an 18-year-old need? My dad gave me some pots and pans which did come in handy, and as I was the first in my high school class to have my own place, needless to say, on Friday and Saturday nights they parties came to me.

The point of this is that I was on my own after I left school; a far cry from what we have today.

Now, getting back to when your kids come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. That is, if they even left at all.

Not sure if many of you remember but in 2008, Senator Hillary Clinton got on Senator Barack Obama’s case because she asked him how he could be for a health care plan that forced parents to pay for their kids through age 26. What happens if they can’t afford it? We had a totally different attitude then; a far cry from what we have today.

If the past is any indicator, your kids will be encouraged to come home… sorry, I laugh whenever I say that.

You’ll be inundated with political topics to bring up at the holiday table that are designed to turn that normally quiet time of reunion into borderline chaos. There’s a few things you need to remember when you’re posed with dubiously-delivered, partisan recitations.

Anytime you’re told what a politician said, remember this: politicians have Constitutional protections on their speech so they can technically say anything without fear of being sued for slander or libel. Can you imagine what kind of world we’d have if you could lie on a daily basis without fear of repercussion? It’s ironic that the Congress and Senate have such Constitutional immunity.

Also, ask yourself this: depending on where you get your news, you’ll get different accounts of the same set of events. Now, as parents who may have had incidents with the honesty-challenged, we all know there’s only one truth.

Can you imagine how different the news would be if the media had to place their hand on a Bible and promise under penalty of perjury to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help them God? We’d have one narrative on any given news story and so-called journalists couldn’t steer a story to fit a narrative they preferred.

A far cry from what we have today.

We also know that our young people have been told for the last 16 years that they are the smartest generation ever, so they’ll come home with that attitude that they know more than you on any given topic. Granted, they’ll be able to tell you about anything that’s trended on social media over the last couple years, but many of us have frames of reference that precede the 1998 creation of the Google engine. We’ve experienced things they haven’t, just like our parents did and we’d never tell our parents they were wrong about something because we took it for granted there were things they knew that we didn’t.

How do we even proceed to give them advice when they find their backs up against the wall on topics of relationships or employment when they actually believe they know more than you do? Can any of us relate to their world where they need a safe space to decompress and ward off all those bad things they don’t want to hear? How many of us just dealt with all of life’s little unpleasantries so we could put food in their little mouths, clothes on their backs and a roof over their heads? And you get a call about whether they should quit a job because someone’s making them feel uncomfortable.

All this knowing if they’re free to quit because they know you’ll have no problem with them moving back home and staying as long as it takes for them to recover from the trauma.

After all these years of education, are you really satisfied with how prepared your children are to enter that cold, cruel world? We know how unforgiving it is out there but we, most of the time, had a new job lined up before we quit because we didn’t even think of our parents as a safety net.

A far cry from what we have today.

Oh, the joys of the empty nest. For those of you who’re free of that ankle-monitor called “parenthood”, would you want that feeling of dread with the prospect of having a kid in your home you’re no longer legally bound to support who thinks he or she really want them there for as long as they want to stay, room and board free?

If you parents can find the will and can also withstand the dramatic pushback, kick your children out as soon as you can and be disciplined with a “no” when they insist they must come back. Sure, you don’t want them to be homeless on the street, but you also don’t want them to be homeless in your home, with all the free perks, costs, that you’ll ultimately have to absorb… again.

It’s time to be the parents and relatives you weren’t legally able to be. Our parents had no problem kicking us to the curb and no whining and sense of entitlement would make our case; a far cry from what we have today.

For years, your kids’ teachers were the ones they trusted and listened to simply because they’re teachers. They’re supposed to know what they’re talking about. Look how that worked out.

Now that responsibility will fall back on you, but you can do it from a safe distance. All of a sudden, your experience and perspectives will be sought and maybe even listened to! It may take a few of those priceless “I told you so” moments, but your graduates will soon find that you’ve always had so much more to offer than those who got thousands of your dollars and won’t answer their emails once they leave the campus for the last time.

It will be very interesting to watch the Class of 2017 enter and attempt to function in the real world, given the preparation given. There will be times where it will be quite entertaining, but you may find that it won’t take long for them to tell you what we eventually told our parents: they were right all along. For those of you with children still within the halls of academia, you’ll just have to suck it up and deal with your jealousy of those parents who’ll be joyously liberated in less than an hour from now.

Today’s graduates will leave a world they could manipulate to their demands and we all foresee the punchline coming as they now enter ours. We were grateful for an opportunity to be independent and a part of something greater than ourselves.

A far cry from what we have today.

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