As you can see, today the Mail Tribune presents its annual profiles of the senior class valedictorians from Rogue Valley high schools.
Around here, this usually means two things: a) folks long-past high school spend a few (or more) moments wondering why we weren’t as accomplished (or more) as these graduates; and 2) we start the 365-day countdown until we have to compile and configure this presentation puzzle once again.
It’s a toss-up as to which fills us with a greater sense of dread.
For this year’s high school graduates — even the eight or so who are not valedictorians — the part of this time of year that will elicit the most groans is the same as it has always been … the ad nauseam advice and words of wisdom they’re about to receive.
My personal favorite always has been “You’ll remember high school as the best time of your life.” Nothing says “you’re going to succeed in life” like telling teenagers that “yo, nimrod, it’s all downhill from here.”
And that nonsense about “the lessons you learn in high school will last a lifetime”? That “lasts” until the moment their own kids throw mashed potatoes at each other at the dinner table. Suddenly, that “lesson” about how to win a food fight in the cafeteria won’t seem so important.
I would be a lousy graduation speaker.
For one thing, I’d talk to the graduates. I suppose those giving the guest address feel the societal obligation to comfort parents sending their children out into the big scary world, and reassure teachers and administrators that they’ve done their best to prepare this group of students.
But if 2018’s graduates are like those of, say, the past 242 years, they’re not sitting there in sweaty gowns on uncomfortable seats next to someone they know alphabetically to hear they’re leaving the past behind while their futures lie ahead of them.
(Because, if they’re bright enough to graduate, they’ve kind of figured that out.)
Speakers should celebrate what the graduates have accomplished — perhaps the greatest personal milestone since they aced potty training. Then, once you have their attention, tell them it’s now their solemn duty to venture into the universe to fix the mistakes of their predecessors.
That’ll scare the you-know-what right out of those snot-nosed overachievers.
But that’s what I’d do … only it’s more than likely that I would segue into some stream-of-consciousness non sequitur that would include a cult pop culture reference — something along the lines of when Mayor Wilkins turned into that snake-like demon Oivkan who devours Principal Snyder right there at the podium before Buffy, her Scooby team, and the rest of Sunnydale’s graduating class fight back against him and his army of vampires in order to save their school … and their families, of course — before finding my way out of the sentence I’d started somewhere, back there, when it seemed as though I might be coming to a point.
Of course, then I’d realize that the “Graduation Day” episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” aired in 1999 — before the vast majority of this year’s graduates were born; at which point, I’d be standing there without a Snickers bar in sight, wanting to get away or at least hoping some dignitary would turn into a demon and end my misery.
If only I knew now what I knew in high school, and … Hey! How about that! Here’s the point I’d lost on our nostalgia sidetrack to Sunnydale!
As I was about to say before I so rudely interrupted myself was that the most meaningful speech, the best advice, the perfect graduation gift that high school seniors could receive would come from themselves.
They should send a message into the future. Sit right down and write themselves a letter (because who knows whether email will survive that long). Fill it with the memories that meant the most through this first stage of life, warnings about traps not to fall into and what goals and blue-sky dreams they have … they’ll know, it’s those things you only tell yourself.
Then, and here’s the key part, don’t open it for four years (any longer, and they’ll forget where they put it) — use it to remind, enrich and inspire them. I know I’d have been thrilled to have my graduating-self warn me not to get that Johnny Bravo perm for my wedding day.
But that’s a story for another time. For now, it’s best just to remember that today’s high school seniors are tomorrow’s real-world kindegartners and, as Paula Poundstone says, when the adults come around asking what the grads are going to do with the rest of their lives … it’s only because we’re looking for ideas.
Mail Tribune senior designer Robert Galvin, who also writes “The Fourth Wall” column Friday in Tempo, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.