Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to this virtual graduation ceremony for the class of 2020.
OK, it’s just a newspaper column, you’re going to have to work with me a bit.
Imagine yourself all dolled up, freshly coiffed, sporting your best cologne, wearing your cap and gown, and sitting in a stadium, auditorium or gymnasium.
Now imagine I am someone important who has been asked to present a stirring and inspiring graduation speech (and likely being meagerly compensated for my troubles).
OK, so you’re actually sitting at your kitchen table with a half-empty cereal bowl in front of you (by the way there’s some on your chin), in your jammies and bare feet, and your dog is snoring softly in the corner (or perhaps it is your dad).
And I’m certainly nobody of any importance, but I do have a few hopefully inspirational words for you on this, the occasion of your virtual graduation.
I know, it stinks, doesn’t it? You finally get through school, all the pop quizzes, the semester tests, the term papers, the acne, the angst and the story problems, for crying out loud, and COVID-19 takes all the fun and pageantry out of graduation.
But hey, life is like that. It’s not a box of chocolates, no matter what the writers of “Forrest Gump” would have you believe. It is a field filled with cow pies (fresh ones), and we all are tiptoeing through the poo-poo barefoot.
If you are lucky and very, very careful, you won’t step in any. But on occasion you not only will stomp right in a particularly smelly lump of excrement, but you will lose your balance as a result and go face-first into another.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the perfect definition of the year 2020. We stepped in it, we slipped on it, and now we have a face full of it.
So what are we going to do do about it? We could lie here and feel sorry for ourselves, but that would only ensure that our outlook on the world would remain a worm’s-eye view of a field of cow doo-doo, and that just simply won’t doo-doo.
The only other alternative is to get up off the ground, wipe the Hereford feculence out of our eyes and begin moving forward (only after pausing for a nice long, hot bath and a big helping or two of Purell, of course).
When you are young, which you are, you think you are 10 feet tall and bulletproof. You think life is going to be one long series of adventures as you climb to the top of whatever corporate and social ladder you choose on your way to happily ever after.
When you are old, which I am, you realize it ain’t necessarily so. Remember the cow pies? They are out there, waiting, and you will step in them, rest assured.
There will be setbacks. You will encounter people who don’t like you and don’t have your best interests at heart. You will be treated unfairly, passed over for a well-deserved raise or promotion, not because of your ability but because of a personality conflict. You will, on occasion, lose.
No, it is not fair. It is not supposed to be fair. It is life, not kindergarten.
So what do you do, become a self-centered, money-grubbing, amoral jerk who doesn’t care on whom he steps on the way up the ladder to nirvana?
That’s one path, to be sure, but there’s a better one.
First of all you must watch your step, that hearkens back to the bovine BM analogy. Watch where you are going at all times and you will have fewer “oh shoot,” moments when you realize you are suddenly ankle-deep in longhorn leavings.
And to help you watch your step, rely heavily on those around you — your friends and family — especially your parents. They may have seemed like total imbeciles during your early teen years, but they have been tip-toeing through the bovine excretion for much longer than you have been alive and they have some lessons to impart, no matter how dumb they may seem to you at times.
Second, love everybody. I don’t mean making out in the backseat kind of love, but the empathy and compassion kind. We’re all just dancing through the dung, trying to keep ourselves upright and our feet clean. If someone needs a hand, offer it. Never be too busy, or too self-important, to help another human being in need. Someday you will be that human being in need, I guarantee it.
And while you are loving everybody, take time to love just one particular person. Having a spouse and/or life partner with whom to traverse the long, long field of Charolais scat is a blessing. Giving your heart to another human being is the most fulfilling thing you can do in this life.
Work hard. Gee, where have you heard that before? I told you your folks were smart. Of course you need to work hard. It’s really the only way to get anywhere. True, by standing still you won’t stomp in a pile of angus stool, but the scenery will never change, either.
The only way to avoid hard work is to be born obscenely wealthy or to choose a profession you love. That way it doesn’t seem like work and never will.
So get out there and change the world. Get up, wipe the doo-doo out of your eyes and start moving forward. Things will get better. Our economy will rebound. This virus will be defeated. Life will return to something approaching normal.
We are counting on you, class of 2020. Don’t let us down.
And by the way you still have a piece of cereal on your chin.