This time each year, I like to write a Graduation Speech I'll Never Give. This time, it's to all the 8th graders who are "graduating" and moving up to high school in the fall.
Thank you, Principal Harbinger, parents, and "graduates."
I say "graduates" with tongue firmly in cheek, because we all know you haven't actually graduated anything. You won't graduate from school for another four years, but our participation trophy society now calls leaving one school building for another "graduation," so here we are.
But a check is a check, and I told Principal Harbinger I would call you whatever she wanted as long as the check cleared.
First of all, I want to congratulate you. You have completed nine years of your 13 years of education, and you've met the requirements necessary to become a teacher during Laura Ingalls Wilder's time.
You are also entering the stage of life where you will be at your smartest. Now that you can read a newspaper, go to the potty by yourself, and solve-for-X 70% of the time, you will — or so you'll believe — know more, understand more, and comprehend more than your parents ever did.
You will be wrong, but none of you are paying attention to me anyway.
This stage of life will last roughly anywhere from eight to twelve years, until you get married, have families, and start asking your parents how to do certain things — changing diapers, calming colicky babies, and coping with teenagers who are too big for their britches.
Of course, if you aren't careful, some of you may start learning these things in three or four years. And, I can see by the look on Principal Harbinger's face that this is neither the time nor the place to mention that.
So let me just say that your parents have rules for you for a reason; Principal Harbinger's forbidden topic is that reason.
Over the next four years, your parents will understand less and less, until they're slack-jawed morons whose sole purpose in life is to drive you everywhere and/or embarrass you.
Once they're paying for you go to college, they may improve slightly. Otherwise, they'll be so out-of-touch and uptight, thanks to your newfound ideals, that family holidays will be week-long tirades about how old-fashioned they are.
Believe it or not, "graduates," your parents weren't always khaki-wearing, minivan-driving buzzkills. They used to be cool as hell.
They were passionate. They had dreams, and they just wanted to have a good time and love life. Your dad wanted to write the next Great American Novel, and hang out with his friends on weekends. He was going to drink expensive scotch and drive fast sports cars — not at the same time, of course. He was going to live in an old warehouse converted to loft apartments where he could park his vintage motorcycle inside.
Your mom was going to become a lawyer and fight social injustice on behalf of people who couldn't fight themselves. She was going to stay close to her college friends and go clubbing with them every weekend, after a long week of saving the world.
So how did they go from that to, well, this?
Here's what happened: Everyone point your index finger up at the sky. (No, kid, your index finger.) Now, bend your wrist so your finger points back at you.
That's what happened. You did. You and your siblings.
Your parents used to stay up late, discussing big ideas with their friends. They ate crazy foods at weird restaurants. They went to art galleries, and watched exciting new plays. They went on camping trips, and wandered the city at night for hours.
Then you came along, and they were responsible for another life. They had to take care of you. So your dad sold his motorcycle, and your mom sold her cute little sports car she named after her favorite actor, and they bought a minivan because it was safer. And they moved out to the suburbs, so you could play outside.
To afford this new life, he got an unfulfilling job that wouldn't let him wear jeans or concert t-shirts, so he bought khakis because they were the least uncomfortable. And she got a less glamorous job that gave her plenty of time to spend with you, or she gave up her career entirely.
He never got to write that novel; she never got to stand up to big corporations.
And they became lame, because they had a child, or children, they wanted to keep safe. They wanted you to stay alive for these last 13 years, and they wanted to prepare you for the next 60 years.
They became lame for you.
So, congratulations, "graduates." You're now ready to deride your parents over the next 12 years for being lame and stupid, and make them feel sad about the lives they once hoped to lead.
And just think, you're only 12 or so years away from starting down that path yourselves!
Now, now, quit crying. Go hug your parents and get your diploma. Congratulations, former 8th graders. You can be anything you want in the world, as long as you do it before 2028.
Make us proud.
Photo credit: Family MWR, US Army (Flickr, Creative Commons)
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