As millions of senior students prepare to put on their gowns, toss their hats into the air, and pose for endless selfies, many of them will also endure the graduation speech. I remember mine well. A local pastor was invited to share “The Secrets of a Good Life.” As we sweated in a hot gym, the preacher rattled off about 25 secrets, none of which I remember today. Truth be told, I was just hoping some pizza place would still be open by the time he spilled all those secrets.
You see, on graduation day, seniors have one thing in mind: the end of the program. Even still, celebrities like Hillary Clinton, Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey share their secrets somewhere each year. Lesser known yakkers like me do it occasionally too. The first time I was asked to address a gym full of soon-to-be grads, I started my speech by saying that I’d be speaking “for the next ten minutes.” Later, in the shake-hands-and-get-your-diploma line, the valedictorian scowled at me, glanced at her watch, and said, “Ten minutes and thirty seconds.” I still feel guilty that I can’t give her those thirty seconds back.
I find it amusing that graduation speakers attempt to predict the future. We tell these wide-eyed seniors (and few sleepy-eyed ones) what to expect in the workforce and in society. It’s a good thing they can’t go back and check us for accuracy. I’m not sure I actually gave a graduation speech to the class of 1984, but if I did, it could have gone something like this:
“Greetings, seniors! I just barely got here on time, I was on my radio show playing some great songs by Toni Basil, Kajagoogoo and Jack Wagner. These are not just the stars of today. You’ll be hearing them crank out hits for decades to come. They have staying power, as opposed to gimmicky new acts like U2, Madonna and Prince.
You are graduating at an exciting time. Change is in the air. I’ve heard that Coca-Cola is about to replace their tired old formula with a “New Coke.” This is genius! America gets tired of the same old thing. We develop new tastes. Out with the old, in with the New Coke. If you want to dabble in stocks, I’d put all my savings in that!
All change is not so good, however. Someone recently asked me to invest in cable TV. I mean, honestly! I have three perfectly good channels, which offer me wonderful viewing options, and they’re absolutely free. Take it from me, seniors: people in this country will never fork over their hard-earned money just to watch TV. I mean, who would sit at home to watch a movie that was showing in a luxurious theater just a few days earlier? And you’ll still have to watch whatever movie is on TV. It’s not like they’re going to deliver a particular movie to your house, and you can’t just make that movie pop up on your screen. Somebody’s going to lose a fortune on that idea, and I don’t want it to be you.
As you think about your future, think about products we can’t do without. Typewriters, for example. There will always be a need for the written word. I actually heard some scientist predict that every home would someday have a computer. Seriously? Have you seen the size of those things? No thank you, I’ll keep my encyclopedia set, cassette player and fax machine. They provide all the knowledge, entertainment and communication that my family needs, and they take up much less space.
I will admit, however that I’m curious about these new compact discs. I saw one the other day that holds ten songs, and you can hold it in your hand. That is truly some amazing storage, it cannot get any better than that. And let’s not forget those wonderful VHS tapes, the perfect way to save a TV show forever. Although I can’t quite see the attraction of taping a show that’s on right now, just to watch it later. I mean, who could possibly wait and watch “Dynasty” tomorrow, when it’s being shown on TV right now? My goodness, there’s an idea that will never catch on.
It’s okay to dream, seniors, but let’s not get carried away. Have you heard those ridiculous stories about some “telephone of the future,” that you’ll be able to use in your car? Uh, right. How long will the cord have to be, 3,000 miles? Plus, everybody knows you can’t drive and talk on the phone at the same time. That would be deadly! We might as well put TV screens in our cars (as if that would ever be legal). Thank goodness the Class of ’84 has more sense than that. Next thing you know, they’ll be trying to pass off some science-fiction idea like a picture-phone, where you can see who you’re talking to, and they can see you too. This is real life, seniors, it’s not “The Jetsons.”
I’ll leave you with some words to live by in our busy 1980s world: Always take time to stop and smell and the roses. And be sure to enjoy the snow, because with global warming, you’ll never see any again after 1992.”