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Sunday, September 25, 2016

graduationIronically, June is both the month of the summer solstice and of America’s biggest annual blizzard.

I don’t mean a weather event blowing in from the Arctic, but a merciless storm of words blowing from the mouths of commencement speakers at high school and college graduation events.

This year, I was one of the blowhards, the chief speechifier for some 260 graduates of my old high school in Denison, Texas. While it was an honor to be chosen as their ceremonial yakker, it’s also a truly humbling experience, since I was the person that the degree recipients and their 5,000 supporters in the audience were least interested in.

Plus, commencement pontificators are expected to offer some sage advice to guide the grads as they moved on, and I was all out of sage. So, I resorted to three admonitions I once learned from a West Texas cowboy: “Never squat with your spurs on;” “Always drink upstream from the herd;” and “Speak the truth — but ride a fast horse.”

Then I hit them with my main message: Now that you’ve had a dozen years in the classroom and earned this important credential, DON’T BE AN IDIOT! I used “idiot” in the same way that ancient Greeks originally meant it. Idiotes were not people with low-watt brains, but individuals who cared only about themselves, refusing to participate in public efforts to benefit the larger community — to serve the common good.

The Greeks, I told the students, considered such people selfish, contemptible and stupid … and so should we.

The encouraging news is that this crop of graduates from Denison High nodded in agreement. After all, they’ve seen that the idiots are running things in Washington and on Wall Street, and the youngsters seem to be hungry for less selfishness and more togetherness as our society’s guiding ethic.

To stress the rich possibilities of a society working together, I noted that any of us who rise in life do so because many helping hands give us a lift. While this night of celebration belonged to the students, the achievement being celebrated belonged to the whole community — the families, friends, teachers, taxpayers and others who were part of the lifting.

  • TZToronto

    I can’t see how anyone can argue with this article–but I’m sure some people are willing to try.

    • Sand_Cat

      Wait for Montana Bill. He’ll be glad to tell you that he had absolutely no help whatsoever from anyone or anything, yet has been a success solely from his own hard work

  • charleo1

    Whenever hard times come along, there are always those who’s true value
    could not have been as fully appreciated without the challenge. They are
    the silver lining that comes with every dark cloud. And, they are an inspiration.
    Unlike the selfish, who would rather deny their Brothers, and Sisters.
    For by the admitting, they might be ask to share, or lend a hand. So they
    gather their little precious bundles, as tightly as they can, and join the other
    snarly misfits, on their islands by themselves.

    • sigrid28

      What a great post, and what a great article. A couple of thoughts derived from American literature come to mind.

      First, the two inter-racial buddies in “Moby Dick” were both islanders only were destined to buddy up once they had left their respective islands and gone to sea: Ishmael, the Melville’s narrator from Manhattan, and Queequeg, a harpooner from the islands of the Pacific. Two other famous inter-racial voyagers in American literature are Huck and Jim, making their legendary escape down the Mississippi on a raft in Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn.” They are suspect with good reason of every town and island they pass along the way. On the other hand, as those high school graduates in Jim Hightower’s audience can probably tell you, some of the fellow travelers they met along the way were pretty colorful characters.

      Second, you reference to a “silver lining” brings up another great buddy adventure, this one–like our country’s-begins in Philadelphia. Of course, I’m talking about the acclaimed film “Silver Linings Playbook” based on the novel by Matthew Quick. Just go ahead and rent it for two days, because you’ll have to see it twice to get the whole picture. You won’t be sorry you did.

      • charleo1

        Well, thanks a lot, my friend. And I will take your recommendation,
        on “Silver Linings Playbook.” Yes, Jim Hightower is great. Put him
        and Kinki Freedman on your list of down home philosophers, from
        Texas. With a flare for the comedic, truisms of life. Jim once said of Rick Perry, The higher up the pole he climbs, the more of his rear
        end, you can see!