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Left Coast / Right Coast: Graduation Season

Okay, we’ve now entered the “graduation season.”   That is the time when all parents and grandparents are subjected to the most inane, boring, never ending speeches done by grammar school, middle school, and high school graduates.
Mike Gold social distancing on the golf course. Photo credit: Scott Brown.

By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur "living the dream in the Pacific Northwest."

Okay, we’ve now entered the “graduation season.” That is the time when all parents and grandparents are subjected to the most inane, boring, never ending speeches done by grammar school, middle school, and high school graduates.

Now before you all attack me for raining on your individual and highly personal parades, I must say that when one’s child or grandchild graduates from school, it is hard to be especially interested in speeches by all the other kids. 

Yes, you are absolutely interested in the speech of your own flesh and blood. But come-on now, after you’ve heard the first few speeches, what is left to say. (Theoretical speech – including all the buzz topics: “I learned a lot. I value all my friends that I met here in school, I love my teachers especially Ms. Jones who was very hard but fair on all of us, I want to thank my parents for their support, etc., etc.”)

Here’s what I remember from my junior high school (as middle school was called then): absolutely nothing. I don’t even remember whether there actually was a graduation ceremony. My high school graduation was “not bad.” The valedictorian and salutatorian both got to speak. 

The valedictorian, as I recall had about a 160 IQ. He went on to become a doctor and in fact, was part of the group that invented the kidney dialysis machine. As I also faintly recall, our actual graduation speaker was the principal of the school, a sort of semi-retired bureaucrat who landed this job on his way out to retirement. He had nothing memorable to say. 

In fact, the most revered teacher in the school was a history teacher with a PhD degree. Most unusual for a high school teacher. See, our high school was brand new – in a middle-class area and the envy of most in the New York City public school system. Teaching there was highly sought after. So we did have great teachers. This particular history teacher will always be remembered for saying one day in class: “The older you get the more unhappy you’re going to be.” Words of wisdom to take with you on your way into adulthood.

The most memorable thing about my high school experience was the vice principal happened to have the same last name as me. And he told me his grandfather had the identical name as me and also wrote a relatively famous book in the 19th century.

So the vice principal took me under his wing and was an invaluable mentor. He is the one who launched me in my career as an engineer, helped me pick out my undergraduate school and wrote a powerful letter of recommendation.

Now onto college. Perhaps you can recall this introduction for freshmen: “Welcome to (institution name here). Look to your left, look to your right. One of those three people, including yourself, will not graduate with your class.

Again, a powerful motivational speech. The four years of college went by in a flash. Our graduation speaker was some high level executive from General Electric – which had divisional offices in Schenectady NY (not far from our college in Troy NY). I can’t recall his name, or anything he said other than: “Good luck and congratulations.” 

What I recall was our fraternity life – which just about could have been copied from the movie "Animal House." We managed to get on "Double Secret Probation" at least twice in my four years there. I won’t go into detail but I will say that women and alcohol were involved.

What was also memorable was that as I was the first generation of our family to attend college, my maternal grandmother as well as my parents attended the graduation ceremony.

Unfortunately, the ceremony took place in our “field house” where the hockey team played. Not air-conditioned and about 95 degrees inside.

Poor grandma – she needed a bottle of water to avoid passing out. I think I had to pay a penalty for returning a sweat stained cap and gown.

In summary, it is okay to skip your own graduation. Just stealthily sneak into the Dean’s office, pick up your diploma that would be by then stacked in the corner of his office in a pile labeled (burn if not picked up by a week from today) and enjoy the rest of your “actual” adult life.

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