Graduation Speech 2010—The Ramblings




(In no particular order...thus the reason they’re called “Ramblings”)



Be an original, mix it up – all those middle school signs and homebase (what’s it actually called) activities – to be honest those crazy originals mostly not in this room (at least not anymore)…sure, in a few minutes I’ll pass some older brother with a bold tattoo and possibly one of those plugs that took a Singapore dollar chunk of flesh out of his ear, but the truth is, most of us in this room have chosen the path of conformity – there’s an age where rebellion is amusing, but one of the unspoken realities of life, is taking the road less travelled is a luxury of the young.

One of the greatest honors bestowed on a parent is what I saw last year – Wyatt Guggisberg introduced his father on this same stage, to be respected by his son and his son’s peers, most of us will never have that.  In my daughter, I already see a glimmer of the decade of eye rolling to come…but not all of you have this venue to demonstrate your pride (awkward), not all of you have chosen the greatest occupation in the world.  But you owe it to your parents to find some way in the coming months to recognize them.  Recognize them for all those early years where your fevers, sniffles and broken appendages scared the crap out of them.  Recognize them for those lovely adolescent years where you felt the need to showcase your argumentative skills as you vascillated between a dozen different hormone induced mood swings.  Recognize them for greeting you at the airport after a week-long interim trip in which they went to bed each night worried for your safety.  And recognize them for the fact that while you get to head off to a dorm filled with activity and newness, they’ll remain in painful silence that will now fill their hallways.  Don’t get me wrong, many of your parents can’t wait to get you out the door, but even these who’ve earned a break, even these few will have moments where their….so recognize them.


In fact, if I were creating my Fantasy Baseball team of adult success, I’d probably avoid those that have been in the starting line-up and pull a few of you off the bench.   You’ll learn when you enter college and no one cares, it won’t phase you.

I started scribbling notes on graduation programs a few years back, Robert Frost’s a Road Less Travelled had been quoted for the 362nd time, and…

Road less travelled – two groups out there.  Right about now, a few of my colleagues are cringing – he wouldn’t possibly rehash that trite, overused Robert Frost poem…but the bulk of you are out there thinking…oh…oh…I know this one, that’s where this guy’s got to make a choice, he takes a risk and his life is awesome. But there’s a problem here.  Many of you over the years have either accepted someone’s lazy interpretation or you conveniently ignored the final stanza.  It says…

Let me give you another interpretation.  Basically, it’s some old guy looking back on his life, sharing it with others and arrogantly overstating how one event was the turning point.  The key is he was reflecting on the past – not while he was going through.  Most adults like to make you believe we knew what we were doing once upon a time, but we didn’t.

Chart out my life.  That ain’t no road.  That’s a freaking kaleidoscope of randomness that brought me to this podium tonight.

Times I took the traditional route.  Times I took the road less travelled. 

Sometimes I found that I had to make a series of safe decisions to put me in a situation where you can once in awhile take risks.


I worry that we all too often – in our need to instantly categorize issues, peoples, choices, we leave out the nuances.  In the past year, I’ve seen Obama labeled a messiah and a Nazi, Michael Jackson a pedophile or a genius….3) …but the truth is, there is no one truth.


Once upon a time candidates and one time friends Thomas Jefferson and John Adams sponsored prominent newsmen to sling such a flurry of vitriolic mud that would make a soccer mom cringe.  We haughtily chuckle at the polarized media as if the liberal tree huggers of the New York Times and the Right Wing nut jobs at Fox News were the first purveyors of biased media. 


Lest your forget the 19___s, shocked at the domestic images, advanced product placement..

That’s one of the reasons for the oft-maligned Electoral College.  Our astute Founding Fathers worried the common man wouldn’t see through the hypberbolic rhetoric to “pick out” (better word) discover the truth.  Well doay – we don’t have the same filters of old.  Literacy has become a non-issue as media comes at you faster than ever before.  So you have to realize the bad guys aren’t so bad, and the good guys will let you down.  But don’t rejoice in the fall, for every Tiger Woods, Jon and Kate + 8, and _______, there’s a colleague, a friend, or a relative who took an equal stumble off a pedestal. 


I’ve always been attracted to the flaw.  The 127 (actual #) of you who have sat in my classroom – especially those in that Am Studies class a few years back – has seen me willingly acknowledge my weaknesses.  It’s been my gateway to discussions of a shared humanity – one where we all have been a Gatsby longing for a green light or a Holden lost in  a world of seeming conformity – not knowing if the rule book says to lead or to follow. 

We are all messed up.  I’m most attracted to the serial introspective, the pessimistically realistic optimist able who knows exactly where they come up short, but then also have the resiliency to excel in their world. 

We’re all just works in progress, moving through our years watching how life has a funny way of getting in the way of our plans.  Some of us hold it better together than others, but all of us are flawed.  As the year pass and the few grey hairs start to peak out of my flowing locks, my kids begin to _________ and I edge closer to sitting in the front row down below, I’ve realized you can’t compare the romanticized nuances to the reality of the whole.  For so many of you, there’s reality and then there’s the place you choose to live. 

Last summer, after struggling into my Singapore Airlines seat and began watching our resident aviation safety thespians – Clemens, Diebley, and Young – show me where I should store my belongings and that I need to make sure the kid next to me gets the gas mask last.

Watching 17 Again on the airplane, a recycled story with that High School Musical guy and one of the Friends which talks about regrets and doing life over again.    It was at this point, where I tore up a few of the blue digestive tract barf sacks and started scribbling.  I was pissed at myself.  One of the curses of Maslov’s Hierarchy is we want for nothing, yet we still fight the nagging impulse to eliminate discomfort, but at what cost.  Our lexicon is littered with idioms – don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater…

Next two come from 4) Brick Walls – for you or others - Last Lecture – book my wife picked up at a book club – 2 points) Brick walls given to see how bad you want something, ideally for others, more than not, they stop you

Self-esteem – earned or given – concern for this generation, and a concern I have for my children in this environment – parents/teachers  warn you to be extremely careful about artificial self-esteem – many of you are so afraid of seeing tears/heartbreak, all you’re doing is postponing meltdowns until adulthood when there will be no one to pick up the pieces.  Confidence given, not earned, is always fleeting.  There’s only one way to feel true self esteem – you suck at something, you work hard, and then you get it.  Everything else is a mirage.  A few years back the middle school cancelled dances because girls’ feelers were hurt because they got all dressed up and no one asked them to dance, every year coaches/sponsors must deal with the cornucopia of parents demanding playing time and face time, and teachers creatively interpret grades – all so that everyone can walk away feeling happy, happy joy joy.  This is all just lazy parenting.  The toughest parenting, the most needed adult mentorship involves hearing the tears, allowing the suffering, and then providing strategies of how to get over, through, and around the wall.  Anything less I have no respect for.


Examples from pop culture abound mirror this sentiment, if you’ll only listen – in the latest edition of the mythical Rocky franchise, the Creatine-filled, HGHed Rocky Balboa – our geriatric protagonist garbles “Its not if you get knocked down, it’s what happens afterward.”  Now if you have trouble taking the advice of the steroid-aided ______, turn ot the oldies radio where the singing sensation Chumbawumba righteously shouts – I get knocked down, then I get up again, no you’re never gonna bring me down…I get knocked down…and…I get…start to repeat for third time, then stop

One not need scan the pages of Freakonomics or one of the countless other pop economics books lining the shelves to know that in the next decade – 5 of you will come down with a life-long illness, a dozen of you will lose a parent, four score of you will find yourselves extremely lonely right around October 13th questioning your choice of college, and 83% of you will have your heart broken by a lass or a gent and spend countless nights falling asleep to the songs of Celine Dion or John Mayer.  So when you hit those dark moments – stay down and waste a ton of time wallowing or choose option B – get knocked down and get up again – no they’re never gonna get you down.

Take advantage of these bodies you have.  It will be taken away from you at some point.  That’s the reality of our mortality. 

This little soliloquy ofmind wasn’t written in the last few months.  I’ve scattered notes at the most random of times – on the back of _____________ rough draft, on the only white part I could find on a Cosmo magazine, barf bags, Street Directory margins,

I still don’t get your generation’s willingness to overshare online.  I for one choose a more intimate gathering like my classroom or an auditorium filled with thousands of people.



Don’t sweat the small stuff assortment of pop psychology leads to a semi-cathartic moments while reading in the lieu. 


Many of you knuckleheads look ahead to your college years for what you’ll put into your body, but instead I challenge you to start thinking about what you can get out of it.  No matter what happens from here, I know that though I wasted the first twenty years wallowing in self-pity and excuse manufacturing, I’ve tried to get every last drop out of this shell.

Even now I’m embarrassed to in any way link myself to this guy.  If ever there was an outlier, it’s this guy.  If it’s anyone’s story that needs to be told – it’s his – so when the book comes out…

Crew – taught me to set goals, hook up with experts, make a plan, try it out, fail, reflect, repeat. 

I’ve looked like an idiot probably more than once.

On a Friday, some juniors called me over to their cafeteria table.  They were making a bucket list and asked me , what I’d put on.  I told them that oddly by the age of 30, I’d pretty much achieved all my goals.  Everything since has been gravy.  Now the stuff I invent is fairly superficial – 200 push-ups in a row, hit 3 homeruns in a game, visit countries x, y and z. 

Sitting in the PET scan after trying to find someone in the halls not already resigned to the death march, something flipped, and my mind started flying.  This will be cool – I can now be the guy who actually gets to use his health insurance.  I’ll start writing again – I went home and wrote outlines for three books.

This is a pretty incredible opportunity.  Pretty much everyone in this room either thinks they’re immortal.  Illnesses are for other people.  But now I get a perspective few here have. 

There’s been points as doctors have thrown around the Big C that I thought about the worst case scenario – that’s who I am, my mind always goes to the worst case scenario and then I work myself back to the point where I move forward.  If I lose, man is this going to be a productive next couple years, but if I win, man will I have some serious street cred.

Imagine in the classroom, “But Mr. Burnett, reading 12 pages of homework is just too tough when I have to balance my facebooking, msning and my Gossip Girl watching---uhhh…spinal tumor.  The complaining colleague who feels the 177 days a year we work is just too tiring…uhhh…spinal tumor.  And imagine my poor kids going through adolescence – “You just don’t get it dad, the kids at school are so mean, life’s just not fair.”  Ummm…spinal tumor?

Let’s just say I’ve grown kind of fond of everything south of the belly button.  So Hallam changed my mindset.  He told me “You’re not getting opened up.  That’s the goal.”

I had my couple days of moisture filled emotions – those of you who’ve ever watched Crash with me know what that looks like.  The morning after I found out about all this garbage, I broke down in the back office copy room and Margaret walked in.  I still have never apologized to her for what I can only imagine looked like a Brokeback Mountain break-up.

My best friend, back in college, started being hypercompetitive.  On road trips, we’d both hold up our arms and see who could go the longest.  I think after about 58 miles, we finally realized we were both willing to tear our rotator cuffs before either one of us would give up.  I have an intense fear of failure, and every day since my fifth grade year in Catholic school, I live thinking I’m going to die.  I don’t do any activity without imagining how I could die – yes, a bit morbid, but man, what a great motivating tool.

Moper or a mover-onner – Give yourself a couple days and then get over it.

Hallam is dealing with all of his stuff came into me and said – that’s why I’m here.  It’s a redo for me.  And, trust me, you’re not ever getting opened up.  And now that’s #1 on my bucket list.

2 mm…2 mm and the doctors go in and I probably come back to school striking a bit different pose in front of a classroom.

You have no idea what people in the audience are dealing with psychologically, emotionally, physically.  The problems of today of the baggage of yesteryear.  Either they themselves are suffering through a bad time, or they know someone close to them who has taken a turn for the worst.

There was part of me who was hesitant to bring this up tonight, believing that in this world of labeling where each of you put a one word all-defining adjective in front of people/situations you don’t know, that I would be known as spinal tumor guy, and I know this will probably happen – it’s human nature - but please all of you know that when I’m forced to interact with knuckleheads I have my own new filter – I picture that all of you have a your own metaphoric spinal tumor.  That could be the only explanation for your reaction…and with this I feel a sense of empathy for the human condition I never before walked with.

Words of Andrew, we all have one the ovarian lottery.  For the majority of you, your issues, are pretty darn silly. 

My goals pretty superficial…connect to bucket list…After playing a few months back against the boys softball team, I was ticked off at myself for my weak hitting, and Norris said, “Is that why you’re out here.”  Then everything started to spiral.

For some of you, the first reaction, is why didn’t you tell me, well, in my experience the SAS rumor mill waits for despair.   And I just didn’t trust your wives.  It seems the entire community jumps on any calamity, fall from grace – it gives us our little bit of drama to make us feel better than others…work on this.


Negative tone/reconsider:


Life’s not a fricking road, it’s a spectrum, or for those of you who are surviving the recent flavor of the decade pedagogical intrustion – it’s a continuum.

I thought I’d flip this whole venue for a bit – I’m supposed to give you advice, as if the ramblings of a hyper introspective, uptight, fatalistically optimistic loner will somehow apply to 283 personalities that are scattered across a spectrum.  So…instead of gifting you a gratis blueprint to a lie of joy, happiness and infinite wealth, I thought I’d help you figure out who the hell you are, so that in the off chance you’re not 98.7% content with your current life, you could start considering in the coming months who you are before you touch down in your University X or Destination Y.


And for those of you not donning the polyester dresses and matching head accessory of those up here in folding chairs, please feel free to play along, although I’m sure my musings could never, ever prove relevant to the generation fighting hair recession and gravity-induced skin alterations.  And for you younguns, try to tune in, now and again, and mayb you’ll be the first generation to actually find themselves before being beat up emotionally for the next half dozen years.

Your vision of SAS – Evil Empire or the Best School in the History of Western Civilization

Spouse – stationwagon or sportscar

Dating technique – might not want to use this one

“Women are like cars: we all want a Ferrari, sometimes want a pickup truck, and end up with a station wagon.”

Marriage – Episode of Gossip Girls or Code of Hammurabi – is it a commitment or an experiment?  Do you agree to fall in and out of love with the same person for the rest of your life or are you in more of a “let’s wait and see what happens” mindset?

Socializing – a fun night – mass heads of mindless minions chanting your name while self-medicated by fermented hops or alone in your room buried in a hoodie and plugged into your Ipod

Extended family – SMSing them on a date or I’ll see you at the next family reunion

Go through life with your family or catch them up on your life

Intellectual curiosity – Love learning so much your ideal retirement is auditing college courses just for the knowledge or Burp…I’m good…rub belly

Where do you want to live – Nomadic vagabond travelling the world living off the good will of the natives or lost in a suburban sea of naturalistically sounding names of housing developments – Forest Green, Lakeview, or…dare I say…Woodlands…


Life Plot Arc – Climaxed, peaked already or gradually improving so that you’re final magnum opus pops out on your deathbed


How do you know where you stand on all these?  You might not know it, but your body has a built in life assessment tool.  It’s called sleep.  When you put your head down, do you crash and wake up 8 hours later, or toss and turn and struggle over…


How introspective are you – Dude, I have control over my life?  No way.  Or Voices in your head, demons that come out at night to keep you from sleeping

Balance in life – what were my kids names again vs. rushing home after you punch the clock to ensure you can watch your newborn Bobo’s afternoon nap

Aging relatives – you’re living with me or let me check you into this cool home called Shady Acres

Pull this out on dates with Miss Thing.  Great assessment tool.  You could save a lot of time, if you could just casually ask them to fill this out while you’re ordering dinner.

What do you do when you leave this room – rush to your friends or the people there for you over the last couple decades, the ones who cleansed your tushy, signed your homework diaries, and listened as you tried to learn the recorder – Personally, I don’t care how much these teen angst years have soiled our relationship with your parents, if you don’t find some way of saying thank you

Reaction to Setbacks – Get ready.  They’re coming.  On the Ides of October, when you’re sitting alone at a campus cafeteria looking at the noise around you, feeling just a bit homesick, do you start blaming your university, the SAS guidance counselors for steering you in the wrong direction, or the entire population of America for not understanding your uniqueness…or do you live our life like Rocky Balboa, a man who famously proclaimed to the 487 patrons who actually saw Rocky VI, it ain’t if you ge

Treatment of the waiter – accidents happen or chance to rip the person apart to prove your socioceconmic superiority

Stop half way – just thought of something, when finding a mate, you could probably save a ton of time, by just pulling out this list on the second or third date.  It would definitely streamline the whole courting process and might not be a bad conversation starter should you feel like you need to SMS your buddy midway through the appetizer

View of God – role of religion in your life – believer vs. the skeptic – someone you need to thank after scoring a touchdown or something you can’t explain but you know is there

Body – temple or a garbage dump – in about 3 ½ years, you will all peak, your body will never look better and will never work as well.  From there you will get uglier and parts will start to erode and or fall off.  You must, repeat must, take advantage of your youth.  Or take care of yourself, so you can extend your youth as long as possible.

Life – ruled by randomness, or rational – cause/effect search for the why this happened and prevent it from happening again

“the outline of our lives is continuously coaxed in new directions by a variety of random events that, along with our responses to them, determine our fate.”

Cool or dork

Legacy – recognition or change, 15 minutes of fame, or 15 minutes of friendship, public adoration or communal respect

To emphasize this, I’d like to warn…many years back I took a group of students to a retirement home, but due to a miscommunication and some bus realities, we only ended up spending 12 minutes with the residents.  When I returned to school, I was asked by a couple different sources if I could write up an article about the experience, and possibly create a bulletin board with any pictures showing the kids interacting with the needy.  My stomach moved a bit awkwardly that day, and still from time to time, that same P.R. nausea sets in.  I warn all of you to guard against feigned service, or meaningless self-promotion.  There will always be those who need you to wax hyperbolic and overly dramatize , but be careful…

At this point, I’d like to hijack this podium for a moment.  Two often at this school , we see critical individuals leave us and due to the strength of the embedded culture we unfailingly move forward from year to year.  Families who’ve seen all of their offspring pass through these halls, teachers whose actions will always remain in the memories of those now stateside, administrators who have kept the mothership on course and support staff who work behind the scenes to ensure those in the public eye find success.  This is my 13th year, and I’ve yet to see someone leave who couldn’t be replaced.  Until this year, that rule might change.  But this year, a faculty coup is leaving whose impact has been felt by every person seated in the audience.  For those of you on stage, you probably most know the male part of this duo – Mr. Norris – a teacher, a coach, - a man who has answered the call whenever any of you have asked.  His two greatest weaknesses are his two greatest assets – he never says no and he always apologizes for not being able to do more.  And to Rhonda Norris – because of her moral compass, her foresight, her institutional knowledge, and her unparalleled work ethic, she has ensured the SAS experience always adheres to the highest standards.  These two have never asked for the limelight or public recognition, so as their inconsiderate friend, I’ve chosen this venue to publicly embarrass Will and Rhonda and extend my appreciation.

Happiness or _______.  6 years ago I walked down from this stage after giving a “remember to smell the roses” type soliloquy and was assaulted by a graduate outside the lobby.  She was pretty ticked off…she said something like “so…are you saying my whole high school experience was a waste.  That I did it for nothing.”  I walked away from this young lady, let’s just call her Ving Gandenberg, and thought, ahh…my naïve little neophyte, how adorable you are.  You will too one day find the way.  But then I spent the next 6 years realizing that pursue happiness and those that pursue tangible goals.  In Bhutan, they have a GNH – gross national happiness – gauge to determine if their country is going in the right direction.  I finally found after years of reading every possible spiritual text and chatting with people from across the spiritual spectrum, that I have my own gauge of knowing if I’m going in the right direction, and it has nothing to do with happiness.  It’s sleep.  I have…this should go at the beginning, so ending works

Obstacle – message that you need to try elsewhere or a chance for you to show that you want something worse than the next guy

Someday parents to be – I beg you all to stop the cycle of manufacturing self esteem.  The formula for self esteem is pretty simple – you suck at something, you practice, you try, you get beat down, you try again, you get better, you feel good about yourself – if anyone ever intervenes to prevent this cycle from happening, they’re only delaying the inevitable shock you’re going to have when the real life obstacles hit you

Speaking of obstacles – Andrew Hallam – last year he was the fastest man on the island, coming in first place out of 14,000 runners.  Now he’ll argue that other continents might have had a deeper pool, but those 14,000 of us who finished behind him would beg to differ.

Then, over Thanksgiving, I was a different Andrew.  This one reset his goals.  Now, to prevent fluid from filling up his lungs after he had had 3 ribs removed a bunch of muscles rearranged, he was trying to blow air into a tube.  His goal became blowing fricking air.  Then it became walking out the door.  Then wearing his roboteacher jet back pack…You need a motivational story, there’s nothing I can say to top that one.  Just walk a few moons in that guys shoes.

Insults – take them personal or consider the source . You never know what’s going on in people’s worlds.  You don’t know anyone’s family issues or personal demons.  Assume people mean well but are having bad

Fooled by Randomness – we are unable to use our logical brain in emotional settings – you go to your default personality, your default reaction – you need to literally plan your personality and your actions ahead…

You need to figure out who you are.  Are you…1 2 3

Reader’s Digest Article

How to survive a major disaster – when your plane makes a “water landing”, when you end up stuck inside a mountain avalanche, or when your camel inconveniently dies while you were travelling alone across the Sahara.  What do the survivors all have in common?

Those who make it aren’t the buffed cowboy with the honed leadership skills, the washboard stomach, and the outlierish eye hand coordination – nope – they die first.  The guy that lives is the plugger, the guy who doesn’t need the recognition, the guy who takes time to think and plans ahead for the discomfort that will follow.  So, if you have a choice between a preening Jamaican sprinter who showboats before crossing the finish line or one of Coppells and Terrilles cross country minions – always take the cross country kids.  Life is won by the cross country mentality.

The one who doesn’t solely study the week before the mid-term and final, but actually spaces out the tasks, the one who can suck it up for your early 20s doing jobs you think are beneath you because you have to play by the rules until you’re in a position to make the rules, and the one who realizes that marriage is committing to falling in and out of love with the same person for the rest of your life.


…another example…Norris…every year people leave…

I’m a rambler…whereas Troy Blacklaws walks through life with a pocket sized notebook noting the world flashing by, I’ve chosen a more unorthodox method.  Over the last couple years, I’ve doodled on Sing Air barf bags, pages 138-142 of my Singapore Street Directory, all over the last three graduation programs, on the only white-paged advertisement pages in October Cosmo, and on the little squares of a Jewish daily affirmation calendar.



Sitting here a couple years back between Mr. Zitur and Ms. Jensen

Senior Wall – 12 make it 237 didn’t

Senior Speakers – 3 tonight 287 didn’t

Who is the voice of the rest

Quantify success by achievement – Avg. GPA is 3.3, what about the 140 of you below 3.3.  One of the flaws of our American education system is we give all the scholastic glory to those with a few skills – reading and writing.  You could be an amazing kid, but you lacked these two skills – the last 13 years have been pretty tough.  What about the rest?

Are you not successful?  Are you not the class?

For some of you, it’s just achievement is not yet, but for the majority of you, you will never win an award, a public accolade – Only one Congress men, one captain of industry, one foreign diplomat, one making it rich on Wall Street, one Lady Ga Ga

Others will fall into their other group – the place you’ll stand out will be the host of a book club, the assistant coach on your son’s soccer team, the PTA parent in charge of bake sales

The kid in the crowd that might not have the character traits memorized, the group never bringing home any medals, the group whose collars don’t have any ropes draped around it

Tom Buchanan – some of you will peak to soon – you’re done with achievement, you will never get the public recognition you’ve received these last few years.   And are you OK with that?  For others, not yet.  You’ve yet to find your niche.  For the vast others, you might never receive public recognition.


You have to love what you’re going to be

Reality has the pesky habit of getting in the way of plans

Look in the audience – join the club – you think there’s a single person up there who at their graduation thought they’d end up blocks away from the AYE on an island dot where a feline fish with a spouting water from its mouth is a national symbol.

Priority – only thing people care about – which sibling has the first grandkid, which in-law gets to stay four days over Christmas, not just 3 – will you step up when needed?

Over the last seven years, there would always come one point in the night when I’d see a little blond girl walking across the stage – I think it was Annie Lydens last year and ______ the year before (and from your social group nicknames, I think I have a lot to choose from tonight)  - and when I saw this girl I pictured my daughter.

My life is spent in front of a class spouting little nuggets of knowledge while throwing out a ton of life hints I wish I actually heeded instead of ignoring once upon a time

Some of you might delay the inevitable anonymity of adulthood, it might not be this summer, it might not be in college, but at some point you will hit the point where

Now that I have catalogued about 1300+ students I’ve taught or made some sort of connection with, and for all the parents and teachers watching your entry, I know for those I still remember, it had in almost all cases nothing to do with your reading and writing skills. As I watched your entrance, past Ms. Molchin in her NASA headset directing your orderly entry – we’ve all been watching you pass – remembering those moments in time when we made a connection

We are a spoiled lot us teachers – many of you will joke up about our lengthy work schedule, but what should really tick you off, is we’ve found the fountain of youth

Plans for future – not everyone can be a Jay Gatsby who created the adult reality he conceived as a romantic adolescent – and if you took anything from that book, you should realize you don’t want to. Fitzgerald knew you wouldn’t get the message, he even hinted at the end of the book, that will still bounce ceaselessly…and for many of you 40 somethings who are still having that gap, maybe you should consider the age at which you conceived your goals

What do you bring to the table?

I look at so many of you, you embody traits that would be great to have, but the genetic pool had other options.

People say you can do anything.  Not true.  People say that effort can overcome any innate deficiency.  Not true.  Get comfortable in your skin.

Truth is, you can’t plan what you bring to the table.  You might be called to sit at the bedside of an ailing mother, you might…, None of this will gain you recognition, but it is what the moment requires. these are the thousands of life tasks you’ll be asked to accomplish.  As much as humanity needs to the movers and shakers to forge a path, humanity needs each o fyou to be the rock that offers support.  That is what you will bring to the table.

Writing this, not a big fan of sitting still.  Never have been.  Back in the 70s I was diagnosed with having an addiction/negative reaction to color dye in foods.  Today we call it ADHD.  Though you might not take your advice from a man whose high school after school diet consisted of rotating between an afternoon snack of a pound of bacon or a half gallon of mint chip ice cream

I am a weird duck.  I was so annoying in school.  When I wasn’t drawing Thor, I’d finish my work and then chat incessantly, trying to engage my classmates.   growing up that our school’s solution was for 3 hours a day to put me in the library with adding machine tape and counting blocks and say “See how hi you can count.” 1, 2, 487,634, 487,635

I am not cool.  No matter how many times I practice in the mirror, I will never master the Criens, “It’s Friday”


Everyone has something they’re good at it – call it a God’s gift

Problem is High School has a finite amount of gifts that are recognized – many of which overlap so that only really a couple dozen of you are ever considered for anything.

Life’s awards aren’t preceded by a 30 second speech or come with a framed certificate, in life awards take the form of memories or your impact on others.

Ursula Pong taught a generation of boys the pointlessness of the bicep in the mirror workout

Thomson meat over whole rice

Staggo – importance of making up random nicknames for every human

Lauren Felice – a couple years back I was going to transfer back to 3rd grade – stating I wanted to spend more time with my family.  She was a bit angry, “You don’t think all of us don’t respect our fathers because we don’t see them at 3:30 every day.  I don’t have the chance to spend a ton of time with him, but there isn’t a person in the world I have more respect for.  His personality, his choices, his relationship with others.

Children see everything.  I have a gift. I need to stay


Who am I?  Weird duck whose first home had wheels

Find out your parents’ story, they may 1) want to tell it, they maybe already have.  Your view of them will change.  One of these holidays, you’ll come home and see them not only as a parent, but as a flawed (person) also struggling through this little thing called life.  You might pity, you might empathize, but they’ll still see you as a little girl.

As you age, your romanticized view of so much of life gets tested.


Spouse – best friend or eye candy for your arm

I fell in love with conversation.  For most of you, one thing you’re gonna love about adulthood is there are a tone more fish in the sea to talk to.  At times, your dating practices have bordered on incestual – all elevating the drama.  I remember the exact moment when I went from wanting eye candy – two ladies.  One had a face that turned heads and the habit of always talking to men with her hands on their forearms, and a name that was a flavor of gum, and the personality of a rice cake.


Fooled by Randomness

“Ideas do not truly sink in when emotions come into play”

“we do not use our rational brain outside the classroom”

Self-help books are useless

Enlightened advice/eloquent sermons don’t register more than a few moments when they go against our wiring

You need to figure out the wiring


This Western life you’ve inherited offers only a few seminal moments bridging one phase to the next.  We offer no rites of passage, we don’t send the gents off to the forest after severing their body parts or require mystical chants while adorned in body paint.  Not even a multiple choice test.  If I look at it…life goes something like this…birth, first step, first day of school, graduation (high school and hopefully college), marriage, birth of first child, retirement, death.


To the class of 2010, I’m forever grateful to have been part of this most ___________ event…for this honor, I say thank you.


Now as I continue please don’t get upset if I don’t properly site the source of all my ramblings.  Let’s just assume I have no original thoughts, but am merely the sum total of all the experiences, literature, interactions I’ve come across over the years.  So, of something sounds familiar, it probably is…and

Embrace your inner dork – life is so much more relaxing when you realize you’ve got some unique little quirks and stop trying to maintain an image

I think how mentally exhausting it must be for that graduating group of boys who have labored to maintain their nickname – a clever little moniker that not only represents abdominal excellence but also a storage arrangement for canned beverages.  Imagine how much easier their life would been had they merely accepted their foibles instead of becoming the image they created years ago.

Woodlands Forever – W – chest, kiss sky


All those wall recommendations lining the middle school about following your dreams, be yourself, and all that stuff…please know that this will not always be the case.  You are at the height of your egocentrism and it will last a few more years, but there will come a time where your choices will be determined by the needs, the health, the happiness of your loved ones, and your dreams will be fairly irrelevant.  It’s a great lie that you should always follow your heart, because most of your choices past a certain age revolve around maintaining stability and comfort.  Conformity becomes the goal.  Noncomformity is a privilege of the young.


When I step back and hear the names called followed by some inconsistent screaming from the your audience supporters, especially the Texas contingency, I’ll _______


Mr. Zitur and I calculated the over-under on how long it would take to call out the names – he’s one 4 out of the last 6 years – I always forgot to take into account the increasing distance from the handshake to the seat for the back aisles

That same mouth that puts me on the stage tonight is the same mouth that over the years has scared away countless would-be friends.  I lean toward the over-share, constantly casting out carefully chosen personal anecdotes in hopes of weeding out those who truly like to talk.  I can play the witty banter game with the best, but I’d much rather connect with the cynical optimist who sees the foibles of the world, but loves it anyway, or better yet sit alone in my head sorting


Not the path to happiness…but the path to sleep.  So many people

These moments that demonstrate completion of an era are few – from here most of you will graduate from college, but then from here the major events won’t be those that signify completion, but those that represent starts – marriage, birth of your child, your child’s first day of school, and then you’ll have to wait 13 years for your kids to graduate.

Oddly enough, the event that should represent the ultimate completion of an era would be a funeral, but for some odd cultural reason, funerals seem to just not have that festive flair of tonight’s festivities.

So truly we’re left with graduation.  This is more than an event that represents the completion of .5 credits of business, 3 credits of History, and an obligatory AP or two to justify your intelligence.

Essentially your graduating from childhood.  Some of you have already had a moment – it could have been a formalized cultural ritual or maybe it was just a knock-down drag out fight where your parents threw up their hands and said, that’s it, I can’t do this anymore, you’re making your bed and you’re going to have to sleep in it.

But for the bulk of you, tonight’s the night.  You finished being a kid.  And for you parents who’ve waited 13 years for the next event, you did it.  You’re kid made it.


Suffer from a tripolar personality disorder that vascillates between an overly sensitive guy who just wants to babysit to a bombastic smartass who needs to monopolize the spotlight, to a somber loner who wants nothing more than to be hooked up in his own thoughts.

Thank you, and I wish you all a lifetime of long, uninterrupted, sleep-filled nights.  Thank you.


Andrew…walked around with him for a twenty minutes, and every interaction came the same question “How are you doing?”  I walked away thinking don’t worry about Andrew…he’s got a plan.  He’s doing as good as can be expected.  He’s recreated his goals and is doing everything in his power to achieve them.  Now, Andrew is a sweetheart, but I wonder if I’d have had a different reaction.  At which point, would I have looked back and said, “I’m good, but how are you doing?  Better yet, what are you doing?  How has my cancer changed you?”  What are you getting out of your body, you didn’t before?  What trivial matters do you now disregard instead of dwelling on?  When you now look at what are the small stuff, do you not realize that it is all small stuff?  Is your fricking goal still to just relieve discomfort.  Is that who you still are?  Because for Andrew to change his perspective, that’s one thing.  For me to revisit life, of course, I’m going to look at life differently.  But what does it take for the rest of you to pause and reflect.  There’s a biblical anecdote that goes something like this…


Everyone has their own metaphorical spinal tumors.  These are any of the myriad of impediments that keep you from reaching your potential – childhood baggage, relationship holes, physical or emotional challenges – we all have them.  As much as we try with technology, literature, spirituality to rid of ourselves of these challenges, they’re always there.  You have to ask yourself if yours are imagined or real – because the manufactured drama is pretty easy to deal with – just get rid of the drama.  But there are those who have the real thing or in the coming years will be hit with the real thing – and how you react will truly define you.

I subscribe to the roulette philosophy of good and bad.  When the wheel of life starts spinning and the ball finally hits its slot, sometimes it’s black and sometimes it’s red.  The lows never keep coming up, and the highs are not immutable.  To be honest, I’ve lived a blessed life for so far too long.  I’ve always felt I didn’t deserve this incredible teaching environment, these dynamic and engaging individuals to my right, and that pretty darn close to flawless family watching me now from the cheap seats.  I honestly thought I could stave off the inevitable shoe dropping if I could just work harder, just appease the gods of fate, and maybe they’d let this run last.  But alas, my fortune flipped a few months back…tell story, start with Will… “is that why you’re here”…but just  as I know the good times weren’t going to be permanent, this little hiccup won’t last too long either…I like the highs too much to be kept down by the lows.


Will – Is that why you’re here

Andrew – We’ve all won the ovarian lottery.  Those guys we always pass on the freeway on a lorrie, huddled under a tarp with the rain pouring down, heading off to a day of physical drudgery few of us could ever imagine.  Have you ever wondered why you sit in your mini-van and they squat in the back of a truck?

I’m hoping you listen to the advice I listen to…



Kids asked me, if I won the lottery, what would I do, I’d go back to college and become a full-time student…just audit every class, all day, every day.  I’d be the annoying 40 year old guy in the corner asking every question and taking advantage of every nugget of knowledge I could dig out of the prof.  I ended up realizing these last couple months, that it’s stupid to wait for the lottery.  Don’t know if you know this, but not only can you go to Itunes to download one of Sahil’s latest apps, the latest episode of Gossip Girls, or the new artistic masterpiece from Kesha, you can also get one of the best educations in the world through this little unknown tab called Itunes U – I’ve taken courses at Oxford, Yale, Berkeley and even Lake Minnetonka U…all for the price of an Internet connection.  For those of you on either side of the stage, as you head off to summer, I challenge you to check out this little piece of technology.  You know you’re going to get bored.  Everyone always does.  Why not multi-task, you can pedicure, massage, drive, fly, all while learning crap you never thought you’d be interested in.


Found out I was C free the morning of the last pap rally, the day many of you remember as the moment I showcased the dance skills that kept me single through the bulk of my early 20s.


Self-reliance – follow strings

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you,

Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater.

Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. "Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood." Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood?

28) What would you do if you made a decision and then realized later it was wrong?  Do you fear more the label of fickleness or the badge of idiocy?  That word conformity is thrown around so often during these teen years, but it is not the conformity to society that bothers me so much, it is your conformity to your own past that truly makes me shudder.  How many relationships stall, how many corporations stagnate, how many people suffer because great men with great ideas remain enslaved to their prior selves.  Do you realize you are a work in progress?   Gatsby


29) When you notice injustice, what do you do? Do you act or do you talk?  Here’s a case study – a few weeks back when the dialogue of formspring headed to the dark side, taking casualties indiscrimately, when you knew en evil had emerged, what did you do?  Did you watch from the sidelines, and passively let the evil spiral or did you risk social suicide and step in to stop it.  Did you regret your inaction or action?  And on what side will you find yourself the next time injustice reveals itself? 

30) Cringeworthy moments – how do you deal with your ultimate fails – we all have cringeworthy moments, those social miscues played out in front of a gathering, those moments of utter embarrassment where you wish you could erase those 15 seconds from your catalogue of memories, but you know instead they’ll pop up for decades to come…but knowing we all have these, when they do pop to the front of your consciousness, will you embrace them and chuckle or will you let them fester and destroy you?


Luxury of singledom – but the majority of us no longer make decisions in a vaccum.  Our every decision is seen through the filter of its impact on others – and your sphere of impacted others only increases with each year – spouse, children, aging family members


Suffer from a chronic case of habitual overshare to which many o fyou have witnessed first-hand in class

I was talking to a few college graduates back who had recently entered the workforce December and one said – and please don’t repeat this – that college is a scam – the correlation between their major and their 6 figure salary was minimal at best.  All they got out of college was the need to keep moving forward in the face of monumentally infantile behavior from the supposed elite of their generation.

31) Adulthood – a time to be serious or a time to be silly.  Can you be respected and also be laughed at?  A fellow colleague down there in the expensive seats came up to me after that pep rally and joked that I need to just grow up and stop reliving the good old days, and I was a bit ticked off – not at him, but at the rules society places on us.  It’s not the first time I’d heard a similarly themed comment from  a cranky pants vet, but why is it that your age has a monopoly on glee?  An average child smiles 400 times a day, an average adult – 15.  And for a few of you out there, I have a feeling your kids haven’t seen you smile since the Ides of March.  Well, I’m sorry but until this body falls apart and this mind atrophies even further, I will continue to walk the line between a semi-respected professional and a ridiculous wanna-be juvenile.  And as the years pass, I invite you all to join me in this balancing act.


37) What’s your benchmark?  Your peers, your parents, yourself once upon a time, the you you, the one you can actually be based on all the physical and emotional realities.


To join or not to join.  Conformity is kind of fun.  We are social animals and being part of a group, following the traditions/rules of a group can actually bring you comfort, joy, energy that living in isolation never can.  Being a non-conformist is sometimes exhausting.  Some of my best HS/college memories were being just an insignificant voice in the masses, all caught up in the energy of the moment.  This collective high can rarely be matched in isolation.  The difference is the content and the goal of the conformity in question – fraternities, organized religion, rallies, celebrations, spectator events – you’ll have to  trust that your value system can distinguish between blind acceptance of a destructive would-be fascist doctrine and the communion of mass frivolity or needed productiveness.