Memo From Michael: Thoughts on School Graduations

This is a week dominated by thoughts and preparations for my daughter Abrielle’s graduation from high school and a post-ceremony party I’m hosting at our home.

As has been the case with the brother and sister that preceded her, and as it will be with the two sisters who will follow her, this occasion – the graduation from high school, the last major stage of childhood – is a very important one on many levels.

Every cliché referring to the illusion that time has passed too quickly flooded my mind along with the flawed conviction that it simply cannot be true that the tall, slender, stunningly beautiful and poised young lady was seemingly just moments before the baby who needed surgeries to remove a massive hemangioma (blood tumor) from her nose, the toddler who set her hair on fire blowing out her birthday candles, the young girl who won a gold medal in the Junior Olympics in rhythmic gymnastics, the pre-teen with a mouthful of braces and the teenager who had progressed from Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz” to Velma in “Chicago.” And, I am quite sure when I see her deliver the valedictory address on behalf of her class it will be through eyes filled with happy tears.

I also remember my own graduations, particularly from UCLA Law School a half century ago, and I find it equally hard to believe that the fat old man I see in the mirror is the same skinny, feisty fellow who told fellow graduates: “The thought that we are part of the world’s intellectual elite is almost depressing. The idea that we are the hope of the future is definitely depressing.  If both of these statements are true, what does that mean for the future? If we are the smartest this world has, why don’t we know how to solve the problems of poverty and civil rights? Why don’t we know how to attain world peace? And if these questions seem only rhetorical, we must ask: If we can’t provide these solutions, who can?” (Read the complete speech here.)

Sadly, my cynicism was prophetical. My generation most certainly did not solve the great problems of the world. In fact, one might make a case that we made it worse. So, as we view the life cycle and the ceaseless changes it produces, what are we to make of it? Is it all sound and fury signifying nothing?

Well, there is a lot of sound and fury, but it signifies a lot. I’ve lived a lot. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve done a lot. I’ve felt a lot. And the good news is, I have a clearer memory of the good things. And despite my efforts to turn happy times into sad moments because they are gone, I realize that these indelible memories are my life. They are preserved in a museum of my mind, and I can visit them any time I choose. A great wisdom attributed to Dr. Seuss is: “Don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened.” That’s an attitude that sustains me when I find myself longing for days long gone, but not forgotten.

Graduations are a time when adults seek to pass on wisdom to young people. We do so, not with any real hope it will change the life of the children we are advising, but because it makes us feel good. And there is a hope, thin as it is, that something may really stick and make it easier for them to endure their difficulties and enjoy their lives.

Thus, I have included a blog post of my favorite quotes on graduation along with some really wonderful videos of commencement speeches. I hope you will check them out and share the feeling – life is sometimes hard, but it is always good!

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