Graduates, educators, parents, assembled dignitaries, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen…welcome.
I have no idea why I was chosen to deliver this address. I certainly can’t claim that in the 50 years since I graduated from Brandon High School my life has been so extraordinary and productive that I have some special claim to pass out advice to youngsters embarking into new lives, new careers, indeed, a new millennium and a new world. Then again, at least I can claim some minor success compared to many of my former classmates. I’ve managed to stay out of prison and lead a fairly productive, comfortable and interesting life with no more than my fair share of screw-ups, and I’ve lived long enough to make it here to talk to you. As Bob Dylan, a poet that was popular when I was your age, reminds us, “I can’t help it if I’m lucky.” Surely, that’s got to be worth something.
In short, I really have no business handing out advice to you folks. Anything I may have learned of value since I was your age is probably obsolete by now, and will be of little use to you. I also suspect that most of the warnings I am qualified to give you’ve already heard often enough, and you will ignore them, just like I did when my elders attempted to drill them into my thick skull a half-century ago. All I can really do is salute you, and wish you good luck as you march off to do battle with history–and remind you that some of you will be casualties, some of you will be heroes, but most of you will eventually come home battered, older and wiser but no one will really care, one way or the other.
But it would also be unfair of me to not at least try and share with you some of my vast experience, no matter how inappropriate or irrelevant it may turn out to be in the end for you. I owe you the best advice I can give you, but I make no promises as to its value. And you don’t owe me anything in return, except to listen politely for a few minutes. Either way, its the least we can do for each other, and if you ever get to address the Brandon High class of 2064, please feel free to crib from this speech, or cop a laugh when you point out how full of it I was. It’s probably the closest to immortality I will ever get. So here it is. I’ll be brief.
Don’t be afraid of hard work. It will never hurt you, and it will sometimes even help you, although there is no guarantee it will do you much good either. No lazy person ever got anywhere, but the world is full of those who worked their guts out and got nowhere. Never stop learning, but always remember most of what you do learn will never do you any good, no matter how helpful it might be to the prosperity and success of others, or how hard you had to work to master it. Be brave, be ready to fight for what’s yours, but know when its time to back down and turn tail because there’s no way you’re going to win them all. Likewise, do not be a quitter, but be wise enough to know when you’re outgunned, outsmarted, outlasted, or outmaneuvered or just plain wrong. Yes, you will come to realize that occasionally you were mistaken, and sometimes you were even an evil person. Learn from it, but don’t beat yourself up over it. Luck counts, too. I can’t tell you how to get any more of it, but its important you know that. The alternatives are you either get too proud or too lazy, too cocky or too scared, and either way lies disaster.
Treasure your friends and family, but be ready on a moment’s notice to lose them. We are, after all, on our own. Life is a long and beautiful river, but at the end there’s always a mile-high waterfall that no one survives. If you’re lucky and smart, you might miss the nasty rapids and sharp rocks that precede it. The world doesn’t care whether you live or die, fail or succeed, suffer or experience true joy. It doesn’t owe you anything, but it isn’t out to get you, either. A wise soul is briefly able to prosper in the narrow space between the two. But if you feel that way about some people, no doubt some will feel that way about you; love counts, love is real, it matters, it really does. If you love, and if others love you, you win. In the end, nothing else really matters.
So am I being too depressing for you? Bull! I’m just telling you what I’ve learned. Take it or leave it, its up to you. Just remember, I’ve been there and you haven’t. At least have the courtesy to think it over. The world is a beautiful place, and regardless of all its problems and terrors, it is, after all, the only game in town.
So cut the cards and deal.