Graduation hasn’t changed much in the last 50+ years, except diplomas are paper in a folder instead of my stone plaque. The pandemic changed the ceremony, but not its nature.
It’s a strange dichotomy of acknowledged achievement and a future of scary decisions without the benefit of significant experience.
What’s the solution? Take command of your own life. Your future isn’t up to your parents, your teachers, your friends, your government, someone on Facebook or even one of the Kardashians. It’s up to you.
But what if you screw up? My students always desired to get older because they felt it would prevent their making mistakes and bad decisions.
I’ve got a surprise for you. Age is not insulation against errors in judgment. Everyone’s done the wrong thing for what seemed the right reason at the time.
I grew up on a ranch. Every other day, it was my responsibility to move the gated irrigation pipe to the next field. This involved hooking up a string of 22 connected lengths of pipe to the tractor and dragging it; a relatively easy 90-minute job because the next field was flat. The exception was the southeast field, which was 200 yards over a sagebrush-covered hill. Not a steep hill to walk, but pulling pipe was a different story.
Standard procedure required disconnecting the 22 lengths, loading them onto a trailer, driving around to the southeast field, unloading and reconnecting each length, hooking up the pump and starting the water. It added another hour to the process.
Today, however, the draw of the river was too much. Fishing was good and suddenly, it was 2 p.m. and I had baseball practice in town at 4. Missing practice wasn’t an option so I decided to pull the pipe up the hill with the tractor. My father had explained why that wouldn’t work, but the physics of it was hidden by my desire to get to baseball. I wasn’t halfway up the hill, when the drag of gravity and the friction of rocky sagebrush was too much. The tractor kept pulling and the front end reared up like a horse, tipped over backward and crinkled the first three sections of pipe like a straw. I bailed out and wasn’t hurt, but that didn’t help much as I walked the mile to the barn to tell my father.
Even adults, in high positions make bad decisions. Who can forget the words of General Custer: “There aren’t enough Indians in the world to stop the 7th Cavalry.” Or errors in judgment, like the President who thought it would be a good idea to hire a female intern.
Regular people aren’t exempt. Many like to go camping in Yellowstone. They have forgotten people in sleeping bags are the soft tacos of the Grizzly bear world.
As we aged, we learned how to deal with inevitable mistakes. It’s a waste of time to hide it, blame others or something else. We’ve realized it’s better to admit, apologize, make it right, learn and get it off our plate. In other words, take command of what you do.
Taking command of your own life requires personal responsibility, not blaming anyone or anything else.
Life is simple. If you’re not happy, do something about it, don’t whine about it; if you want to be successful, obtain a marketable skill and work your butt off; if you want to quit smoking, throw them in the trash.
But you have to do it; not just talk about it. Don’t be the man who opened up his lunch bucket and said “Damn, bologna sandwiches. I’m sick and tired of this; eight straight days of bologna sandwiches.” His co-worker responded “Why don’t you ask your wife to make something different?” The man’s response: “What wife, I’m not married.”
Our country provides everyone the opportunity to get an education; choose their own career and earn accompanying rewards. But with opportunity comes responsibility. It’s self-determination. It’s up to you to take command of your own life and take advantage of the opportunities. If you need more money, then choose to get off your butt to make a buck.
At my 50-year fraternity reunion, Don returned a multi-millionaire. His college roommate, Allen, not so much. Allen asked what was the secret when they both had the same business degree. Don asked Allen if he had watched all 73 episodes of the Game of Thrones. Allen proudly answered, “yes.” Don paused and responded, “I didn’t.” Do the work.
Graduating is a momentous achievement, but it’s just a step. It gives you an opportunity. Your future is your choice.
For another fraternity brother, Mike, it was nip and tuck whether graduation or jail were to happen first. He eventually became a member of the Secret Service. Another, Robert, was a Dean’s List student but ended up in a Turkish prison for drug trafficking. Marcie’s father, a drunk, died in a car wreck when she was a junior in high school; her mother of cancer her senior year. But she graduated with a 4.0 GPA, worked her way through college and became a CPA. Another fraternity brother was an Upton Research Scholar with a 4.0 in Biochemical Engineering, but Rick drank two fifths of Scotch a day and died of liver failure at 23.
Their graduation didn’t predict their future. Their future was a function of what they chose to do with their own life.
You’re graduating. It’s time to begin to fulfill your potential. When someone says you have great potential, that’s nice, but you don’t want to come back for your 10-year reunion and have people say you have potential. Having potential means you haven’t done anything yet. Now is the time. Take command of your own life.
Bryan Whiting feels most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of non-partisan economics rather than government intervention. Comments and column suggestions to: [email protected]