Monday, June 14, 1999

Graduation Day

Class of 1999, I am here before you speaking not only as your friendly neighborhood newsletter editor, but also as a replacement for your valedictorian who has a date with President Clinton. That by the way, is the first and last joke I will ever do about the President. Back when I was in school we used to whine about having to learn algebra and physics... "When will I ever use this in real life?" I guess you too must look at real life lessons like accountability and self responsibility and wonder if what's on the page in front of you has any practical application.

But I digress. As I look out among you, I see the usual crowd of proud faces tinged with a certain uncertainty and sadness, enthusiasm marked with a smidgen of skepticism. You have indeed accomplished much in your years of hard work and yes, you do have so much more in front of you. We hear so much today about the bad things about the youth of America and we hear just as much about all the difficulties you will face in the future. Yet I have had the pleasure of getting to know two of you specifically and I have nothing but the utmost respect for both of you. I have watched you grow up, make a few mistakes along the way, yet I'm proud to call myself an uncle to one of you (Nathan Michael Trygg) and a friend of the family to another (Jessica Rose Deutsch). You both are outstanding young adults who I have absolutely no doubt will continue to add so much to your community as you continue to grow.

The only bit of advice I can possibly offer is whatever you end up doing, don't do as I did. I don't say that as yet another example of self depreciation, but rather it is a life lesson that is important to learn. If I were a teacher or professor the last test I would give to my graduating students would be a test that has no correct answers and at the same time no wrong answers because essentially isn't that what life ends up to be? None of us has the answers and we all discover different things we need to know along the way. What works for me, won't necessarily work for you. We all must find our own paths.

Graduation day is full of bittersweet feelings. You should be proud of what you have achieved and remember fondly the memories along the way. You also should acknowledge those feelings of sadness and uncertainty. You will never see many of your classmates ever again. There has to be a certain feeling of insecurity in many of you because you aren't quite sure what is ahead. That, girlfriend, is stressful to the extreme. Graduation is that odd combination of endings and beginnings all intertwined together.

If there is one other thing I might pass on to you is that I have seen no matter where I have been, no matter what situation I find myself in, happiness is more often linked to what you give, not about what you get. What you do for others is ultimately more satisfying than what others do for you. I say this as I remember another graduation day of sorts 13 years ago, when I stood in my dorm room and my neighbor came over and as we had for the past few weeks, we got into a fight. It was a relationship that at the time I felt like I put in a lot more than I got back. Now I see what she left still circles inside and puts the balance squarely in her favor. Unlike many relationships this one ended with a dramatic explosion and this particular scene was a signpost along the way. It reached a point where every encounter was draining. I was responding to something my neighbor said when she said to me, "You can't always make a joke about everything. Some things are serious..." More than any of her other criticism of me, this one hurt most. Perhaps because deep down I knew it to be true and knew it to be a particular weakness of mine. Not that I can't be serious, I can be seriously serious among the best (and worst) of them. Just that as a defense my first reaction often times is a joke. Thing was, I wasn't joking. She said she never knew when to take me seriously, and when to take my words at face value.

Until recently I always thought the most difficult thing about the end to that particular relationship was that we never had a chance to say good-bye to each other. Things got so crazy in the end that it just wasn't possible. I always felt that if we could have sat down and quietly said good-bye, it would have been better for all involved. I am finally beginning to see I was just fooling myself. Endings are never easy. Moments like graduation give you plenty of opportunity for closure and yet no matter what you say, no matter what you do, nothing can quite prepare you for the impact and the aftermath. I don't think most of us are too good at saying good-bye. We all just kind of uncomfortably fake our way through things. It is often painful but seldom malicious. Indeed, I have come to see that my long lost neighbor had it right a time or two. There are moments when the jokes cease working. After the laughter stops and the smiles disappear sometimes all you are left with is that awful empty spot deep inside and you know your heart will never quite be the same again. Most of the time there is comfort in knowing that with an ending comes another beginning just around the corner. Most of the time. But there are times when you have to take a moment and appreciate not so much what was or might be but what you have now. It doesn't always last.

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