I graduated from high school in 1991. Our graduation speaker, a news anchor from one of the big city television stations, imparted this wisdom in his remarks: he would keep them short, because he realized that we graduates wouldn’t remember them anyway.
I’ve always remembered that — but it’s just about the only thing I do remember from his speech, other than he also went through a list of the costs of various items when he graduated, which was sometime in the ancient past, as I recall.
Now, I have no idea what the cost of bread or eggs was in 1991. But I do remember that a gallon of gas was just over a dollar — which was a huge imposition at the time. For most of my senior year, it had been about 40 cents, and the $5-per-week gas allowance from my parents was more than enough to get me and my twin sister, with whom I shared a car, anywhere we wanted to go.
However, early 1991 also marked the start of U.S. involvement in the first Gulf War, and gas prices spiked dramatically — with no corresponding jump in our weekly allowance.
Coincidentally, I spent that summer riding my bicycle to get around town — not because of the price of gas, but because a couple of days after graduation, while out looking for a summer job, I managed to get myself into an accident, and totaled the car.
Graduation speakers always talk about entering the “real world,” but my advice to new graduates is that there are better ways to get that experience than via the court system. I grew up in a small town, and the other person involved in the accident — which was pretty much my fault — happened to be the police chief’s wife. And being a small town, the local DA happened to be the police chief’s brother. And I happened to spend every break during my first year of college going home to make court appearances on the matter.
I can laugh about it now, but at the time, it was definitely not funny.
I know that good decision making comes from experience, and experience comes from making bad decisions, but my one wish for this year’s graduates would be for a more pleasant transition to adulthood than I had myself.
My own kids are making transitions of their own — my son is wrapping up his sophomore year of high school, and is at a point where he needs to start thinking about what comes next, while my daughter is finishing eighth grade and moving on up to high school.
There’s been a fair amount of looking back, especially for my daughter as she’s leaving a building where she grew tremendously over the course of three years. (Those sixth graders at her graduation ceremony looked so young!)
But as nostalgic as I can get sometimes, I find myself more excited looking at what my kids have ahead of them — probably a little more excited than they are themselves. Where other parents seem anxious about all that comes with having high schoolers — driving, dating, balancing academics, cocurriculars and social life — I’m feeling pretty comfortable with my kids taking responsibility for managing those things for themselves.
I know that not all of their decisions are going to be the right ones, and I will be there to offer support — or to take away driving privileges, if necessary. Looking back on things, I’m kind of amazed that I’m not still grounded for some of my poorer judgement.
Then again, I’m pretty sure that my parents get a good chuckle every time they hear about all the trials and tribulations I’m experiencing as a parent. What goes around, comes around, I suppose, and as long as those trials don’t involve and actual court appearance, I will be grateful.
Reach Clarion editor Will Morrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.