As I sat through my nephew's graduation ceremony this past weekend, I got a little emotional. It wasn't the sweetly hopeful faces of the graduating seniors that got me, or memories of my own misspent youth, or even thoughts of the day my children would walk, cardboard square be-capped, across that stage. It was, instead, a sense of injustice, a sense that I'd been slighted. "Hey," I fumed, "why hasn't anyone ever asked ME to deliver a high school commencement address?"
Ok, so I never had the drive to graduate anywhere near the top of my class, and I don't have the acclaim or distinction that would prompt anyone to ask for my insights. Still, I'm smart. Some might even say wise. I have life lessons to teach.
And then, around the twelfth graduating "Johnson," it dawned on me: I don't need to be asked because I'm a blogger. I've been inflicting my wisdom upon the Internet for years without any prompting whatsoever. So, here goes, Class of 2011. My virtual commencement address:
As I look out upon you across our collective cables and WiFi connections, to all gathered here marking this moment of passage, this ending, this new beginning, I see on your faces a range of emotions. Hope. Relief. Expectation. Maybe a little fear. Some of you look like you need to go to the bathroom.
(pause for laughter)
You're all wondering what happens next. Well, I'll tell you: some of you might achieve your dreams. You will all have your little success and a select few will make it big and every one of you in one way or another will get your ass kicked by life. It's just how it is.
(pause for reflection)
But here's the real shocker: you are not actually graduating from high school today. Oh, you'll get your diploma (unless as the administration wishes me to remind you, you still need summer school credits in which case you will be handed an empty decorative diploma holder and the vice-principal will kiss you, godfather-style, as he shakes your hand) and you'll move your tassel from one side of your mortar board to the other and you'll wake up tomorrow knowing you'll never have to step into this god-forsaken building again. But you can't really leave. Some of you will flee, quick as little bunnies, to distant parts of this country. But you're not really going anywhere. You'll take this place with you forever. And I'm not talking about your education. You've already forgotten most of that. Most of you already can't list the names of the corpses on the stage at the end of Hamlet and couldn't solve for X if you were dangled above a tank of ravenous sharks. I'm not talking about your friends either. In time, most of them will fade to hastily written facebook updates.
What I'm talking about is the real meaning of high school: your humiliations. You could graduate a thousand times and it won't wash the Twinkie frosting out of your hair; it won't extract that cheerleader's spiked heel from your heart; it won't silence the still-ringing derisive laughter your "Study of Marigold Intelligence" science fair project inspired. No, my friends, there is no graduation from disgrace.
(Yeah, so maybe there are a few reasons I haven't been invited to deliver a commencement address. But hold on, bear with me, I'm going somewhere with this.)
You are bruised. You are wounded. You are hurt and you are scarred. That sucks, but it means you've been toughened, honed. You've learned honor and grace. You've earned your distinctive sense of humor. And in the future, people will LOVE these things about you. You've been through hell and now you know things. Now you can go off and discover your true self. Now you have things to share. Congratulations, Class of 2011. You've been knocked down just enough. You're finished. It's time to pick yourselves up off the dusty gym floor, and rise, busting heroically through that pile of bombardment balls. You passed.
As you file to the exits, please pick up your copy of Alexandra Robbins' The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School. In it you'll find stories of kids on the edge who survived, like you, the terrors of high school, and who, like you, are ultimately the better for it. You'll learn what the experts are discovering and what you've known all along: that you are one of the truly interesting, the deserving, the talented.
The real world is out there, people. After high school, it'll be cake.