COMMENTARY: Middle School Commencement

When I was asked to deliver the commencement address at my nephew Jaren’s middle school graduation, I worried more than normal. After all, 14- and 15-year-olds are especially tough.

First, they’re subject to torrential hormonal surges that can generate vast mood and personality swings. They can be wonderfully agreeable and fun to be with one moment, then sullen and argumentative the next.

Plus, there’s a tendency for kids this age to be really confident in their opinions.

I’d learned that it helps to get such audiences actively involved so I asked them to repeat after me. First I had them say: “I am moving on.” After talking about that for a while, I turned to their parents and asked them to say with equal volume and vigor: “I am on your side!” Later, I asked the graduates to say: “I am smarter than I ever was, but not as smart as I will be!”

Then I made this appeal: “For your own success and the sanity of your parents, please remember that as much as you do know, there’s still much you don’t know. And as much as your parents don’t know, there’s much that they do know. And here’s the biggie: Sometimes, what your parents know is some of the stuff you don’t know.

“But, even if you’re certain that you do know what your parents don’t think you know. And even if you’re certain your parents don’t know what they think they know, treat them kindly and with respect. They’re still learning.”

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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