It wasn’t until I attended my cousin’s high school graduation commencement ceremony last weekend in northern Virginia that I realized that, for years and perhaps generations, we’ve been doing a big thing badly.
As the sun slowly rose over the school’s football field, promising to turn me and the thousands of others in attendance into glistening puddles of sweat, we were treated, or rather subjected, to a handful of forgettable, bloodless and trite commencement addresses from administrators and students.
When I reflected on my own high school graduation and similar ceremonies I have attended, it dawned on me that I honestly don’t know what a good high school commencement address sounds like.
So predictable are these addresses in their delivery and content that there might as well be a “Mad Libs”-style book for those tapped to deliver these remarks.
“When we first arrived at (name of high school) as freshmen, boy, were we (angst-y adjective) ... Can you believe we (zany senior prank)? What a hoot! That sure was great when we (athletic accomplishment) ... In closing, (Robert Frost quote about those two roads). Thank you.”
For something we have been led to believe is significant and a rite of passage, we sure settle for some pretty subpar oratory.
These speeches really are a disservice, both to those graduating and those attending the festivities that have become all but a formality, something you attend to be polite as opposed to a recognition of genuine academic achievement.
Students graduating high school in 2012 deserve to know that they’re entering a world that is more uncertain and volatile than the one they’re parents encountered when they passed through high school.
Rampant unemployment, an unstable global economy many believe to be teetering on the verge of total collapse and fragile diplomatic relationships between the world’s remaining superpowers are only some of the problems this generation of Americans will be tasked with solving.
And those are the ones we know about.
No need to get all doom and gloom but these are serious times that require the kind of curious, bold thinking that is unlikely to be inspired by an empty, self-congratulatory speech filled with inside jokes and shout-outs to certain friends and classmates.
The end of high school isn’t the end of anything. It’s the beginning of everything.
We should celebrate the achievements of our young people while being careful not to fill them with a false sense of accomplishment.
The real work is far from over.
This generation deserves to know that while the threats facing our country, our planet and all its inhabitants are grave, they have the tools and the abilities to mitigate and even eradicate them.
Such insight, sadly, will not be found in Dr. Seuss’ oft-quoted “Oh, The Places You’ll Go.”
This week, a playlist of graduation songs meant to remind the Class of 2012 of the road that lies ahead and the values, traits, character and sometimes dumb luck required to traverse and conquer it.
Enough with the Dr. Seuss quotes already.
• Titus Andronicus, “A More Perfect Union” — A song about the journey for something better.
• Alkaline Trio, “You’ve Got So Far to Go” — ... Because, frankly, you’ve got so far to go.
• The Hours, “Ali in the Jungle” — “Everybody gets knocked down/How fast are you going to get up?”
• Dawes, “How Far We’ve Come” — Nothing wrong with a little introspection and self-reflection.
• Bob Dylan, “Forever Young” — Can’t think of a better graduation song than this.
• Nada Surf, “Popular” — A reminder of just how stupid high school is.
• Passion Pit, “Better Things” — An undeniably quirky and upbeat song.
• The Polyphonic Spree, “Section 9 (Light & Day/Reach for the Sun)” — The quirkiest and most hopeful of songs.