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Some practical advice for the Class of 2008
I don’t make a habit of going back through things I’ve written before, but with school finished for the year and the Class of 2008 out the door, I came across something the other day that I wrote for the Class of 2001 and thought its message — with a little updating — was still relevant.
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Graduation is a time of exultation and sober reflection. It’s a time to look back on genuine accomplishments and forward to the challenges that lie ahead.
For better or worse, it’s also a time to listen to a lot of windy speeches, most of them dispensing the sort of bromides that made your grandfather cringe 50 years ago.
With that in mind, I’d like to try my hand at revisiting some of the more obvious cliches that attend any high school graduation ceremony and offer the Class of 2008 a more practical take on them.
• Cliche No. 1: “It’s your turn to lead.” Maybe, but not necessarily. And if you follow this admonition to its logical conclusion, you’ll only spend a few months in charge anyway, since the Class of 2009 is coming along right behind you.
In point of fact, the real world doesn’t operate anything at all like the playground, and no one is going to stand aside and let you lead just because you think it’s your turn.
You’ll lead if and when you’ve earned the right, and you’ll stay in charge for only as long as you’re entitled.
One thing’s for certain: If you work hard and pay your dues, your chance will come a lot sooner than if you just sit around acting as though you’re entitled.
• Cliche No. 2: “Con-sider public service.” For some mystifying reason, graduation always seems to inspire calls to forego personal achievement in favor of serving humanity — as though the two goals were mutually exclusive.
They’re anything but.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with building roads in Botswana or digging wells in Bangladesh if that’s what you’re driven to do. But there’s also no shame in striving to attain your own personal financial goals, either.
In becoming spectacularly successful for themselves, entrepreneurs and innovators like Bill Gates perform the greatest of all public services by creating opportunities for people to work hard and make their own dreams come true rather than depending on the charity of others.
• Cliche No. 3: “Challenge authority.” Challenge nothing — belligerence only begets anger and resentment. But question everything.
Just make sure you have the maturity to listen to the answers. Every so often, it turns out someone actually knows more than you do.
• Cliche No. 4: “It’s up to you to clean up the mess your parents have made of the world.” This one really burns me up because, contrary to the myths being promoted in the popular culture, the world has never been in better shape.
We take for granted marvels our grandparents never even dreamed of. We live in the strongest, safest, most prosperous nation in the history of the earth, and your horizons are truly limitless.
All this is in large measure because of the hard work and sacrifices made by those who came before you.
Countless thousands, in fact, gave their very lives to protect the freedoms and opportunities too many of us wrongly assume everyone in the world enjoys.
Your parents and grandparents may not be perfect, but they’ve created the most nearly perfect country the world has ever known.
If you do half as well building on the solid foundation they’ve left behind instead of tearing it down, you’ll be doing very well indeed.
• Cliche No. 5: “The real challenge is just beginning.” In many respects this is true. But don’t let it rob you of your sense of accomplishment.
Probably 95 percent of adults live their lives with the lingering suspicion they might have made more of themselves than they have.
Consider that, as you stand here right now, a newly minted high school graduate, you are — for perhaps the last time in your life — precisely where you should be in life.
Revel in your achievement. But remember that where you go and what you make of yourself from here is up to no one but you.
And that may be the greatest cause for celebration of all.
Jeff Rhodes can be reached at
(360) 876-4414, or by e-mail at