To The Class of 2010

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It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.  ~Edmund Hillary

Gang, you picked one heck of a year to be released into the wild – – and I do not mean your first frat or sorority party.  I’m talking about a hot, flat and crowded world that suffers from serial hubris and an inability to learn from history.    In the past year, we have seen many people at their worst and best. You eventually learn that everyone is imperfect – except the Dave Matthews Band.  It’s hard to believe, but in time, your parents will actually get smarter as you receive higher education.  It sounds counterintuitive but trust me.

We are all souls moving along a human continuum that is at one end, anchored by ignorance, self worship and tanning salons and on the other side, is love and humility.  Think “Snookie” from “Jersey Shore” at one extreme and Mother Theresa on the other.  We each rise and fall along this silk thread called life. It is impossible to be young and not suffer from self obsession, especially when you have a pimple.  Many of the mistakes we make, we commit out of self centered fear – – fear of rejection, fear of not getting what we believe we need, fear of fear, fear of not having at least 3 gigs on our cell phone or personal computer.  The “Fear List” goes on and on and is normally released once a year by the same people who make the Farmer’s Almanac.

We learned in school about people who have dedicated their lives to leaving the world a better place than when they found it.  We found out that conceit and fear have destroyed entire civilizations.  Sadly, most of us give up wanting to be President (some of you will eliminate your chances for public office at your first college party). As we grow older and slow from the weight of responsibilities, material pursuit and Krispy Kreme donuts, we lose our ambition to change the world. Churchill once said, “If you are not liberal when you are young, you have no heart.  If you are not conservative when you are old, you have no head.” Right now, it’s all about heart. Later, it will be about heartburn.

This is your time to indulge all of life’s possibilities and remember that the only doors that are shut to you in life are the one’s you choose to close by your actions or inaction. The French have a term, “raison d’etri”- – translated it simply means: “reason to exist.” What will be your reason to exist?  As you head into higher education, gap years, travel, jobs or a period of life exploration, never lose sight that everyone comes off the same spiritual assembly line.  We all hail from the same maker – – some of us just choose to become higher performance vehicles, while others succumb to their own self imposed limitations. A few crash and need some time in the shop.

In the last 12 months, you have witnessed a year of firsts – – a new President, landmark legislation attempting to fundamentally change our healthcare and financial systems, record unemployment, environmental disaster, unprecedented human suffering and the acoustic shadows of improvised explosive devices killing American soldiers half way around the world.  Amidst this chaotic age of hope, blight and frailty, your lights are shining like head lamps of climbers in a dark storm.  Each of you is a candle in the dark – a catalyst for change where ever you go.  You do not have to travel to the edges of Darfur to find the marginalized, the underserved, the hopeless and the inhumane – you can actually do this by visiting Congress.

You just have to get out of your self interest long enough to notice need and chances to be of service.  It’s like the movie “The Matrix”.  Self interest is the blue pill.  You can take it and continue to move along life’s path insulated from the ugly truths that lurk on the edges of our lives or you take the red pill, descend down the rabbit hole and see where it takes you.

You always have choices although sometimes, the only thing you can change is your attitude.  Feeling sorry for oneself is one of the more overrated indulgences in life. It’s a waste of time.  A Czech Holocaust survivor, Sir Frank Lempl, tells a story about his procuring an extra pair of shoes at Auschwitz and having to decide which of his two closest friends (both shoeless and suffering) would receive them.  The shoes meant life as winter meant long hours of work in the snow, frost bite and eventual death in the gas chambers when one could no longer walk.  Lempl stared deep into his soul, made his decision and saved the life of one friend and could not prevent the death of another. He called it his “Shoe Decision.” In relating this story to a friend, he shared that most decisions in life “are not shoe decisions ‘.  Pray for guidance.  Try to ensure that your choice is not made out of self interest but human interest, and then get on with living.  To Sir Frank Lempl, there is no place for regret or feeling sorry for oneself.  Pick yourself up, make your amends and get on with life.  It is worth noting that Sir Frank came to London penniless when he was 50 years old and founded one of the largest construction companies in the world, Bovis-Lend Lease.

Your best lessons will come in the form of pain – – physical, emotional, intellectual and psychic.  These moments of clarity are difficult and at the times, you will not see the forest for the trees to realize you are getting exactly what you need (BTW, this will always be different than what you wanted).  There will be days when it seems like the entire cosmos has turned its back on you.  Remember that you are only given what you can handle and strife is the ultimate compliment from a God who has a wicked curveball and a highly evolved sense of humor.  Your essence of being a person, along with gray hairs – will emerge from these trials.  You will discover a lot about yourself and others – who your real friends are and who were only hanging around for the free food.

To learn to forgive is like learning how to eat right, you will never regret it.  Resentment is junk food – it only creates emotional fat and has no value.  I have to admit vindictiveness tastes good but it ends up giving you reflux – (ask your dad what that is). Pray for your enemies. Praying that the idiot who bugs you gets whatever they need is hard.  Understand though, that by forgiving, you take away people’s power over you.  It is true.  Trust me.  I tried it once and it worked! It’s hard to do – sort of like learning to juggle or riding a unicycle.  However, once you get the hang of it, you suddenly realize that no one can make you feel bad about yourself without your permission.

Whatever you have done up to this point, it does not really matter.  That’s bad news for the social X-rays and drama queens but great news for those of you who remain undiscovered or ended up in the police blotter.  You are all equal sized tadpoles and will now be swimming in a bigger ocean.  Sorry to break the news to you amphibians but we are all here but for a brief period of time so make the most out of it.  Dance with your hands outside the safety zone.  Risk rejection knowing that somewhere out there, someone beyond your wildest expectations is waiting to be your partner – you just may have to travel through Slovenia to meet them.

Do not get depressed about the way you find the world.  Your job is to change it and our job is to try to stay out of your way while you pull down some of our grand monuments to self interest.  Don’t blindly accept a two party system. Crank the music but invite your neighbors to the party so they do not call the police.  Write thank you notes.  Do something nice for someone every day but do not tell a soul – – it is the ultimate overture of selfless service.  The good news is the most important person – you – will know what you did and 365 acts of kindness later, you will be changed for the better.

The people who seem so important today may not even show up to your 30 year reunion because high school was their life’s high water mark.  Other less visible classmates that did not appear to have it going on will end up doing some very interesting things. Some do not ever return so cherish your time together. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, you may not like the answer.

Above all, enjoy these years where your bodies are strong, your ambitions are boundless and your belief that anything is possible is amplified in every cocky little thing you do. Just remember humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is simply thinking of yourself less of the time. It is also occasionally taking out the trash without being asked.

Go get ‘em.  Breathe deep and scream at the top of your lungs.  Never give a ride to a hitchhiker with a prosthetic hook. Don’t party too hard – all you are doing is medicating your ability to live life. Hendrix, The Doors and Dave sound just as good without losing control and you are much more likely to sing on key. Try to change your bed sheets at least once a semester and remember not to mix colored and white clothes in the laundry. Exercise regularly – – the “Freshman Twenty” is real!( ask your mom). And yes, according to Dr Fessler DDS, you still must floss.

Vaya Con Dios!

To The Class of 2009

To The Class of 2009 

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing worth knowing can be taught.” ~Oscar Wilde

Graduation is nearly upon us and another litter of free-range kids will be released into the wild to hopefully live and prosper.  Graduation ceremonies are critical passages for students, parents, family and friends.  It is a time to feel incredibly proud and terribly old as another milestone is kicked over like a garden gnome in the backyard of life. 

We are christening human vessels as they leave the safety of our ports on a sacred mission to become adults and societal change agents.  Class of ’09, I’d like to add my two cents.  After all, this is the generation that will likely be running the country when I am calling for my assisted living caregiver because I am concerned that the Three Stooges are hiding under my bed.

These young, sturdy ships are going to sea in a force ten gale – a time of global, domestic, economic and social upheaval – it’s the 1930’s minus the 1920’s plus the 1960’s minus the 1970’s.  Let’s see, that would calculate to, just a second, let me pull out the old HP — hmm, the answer is zero with only American Idol and Desperate Housewives left over.  Actually, the calculus of predicting the path of this perfect storm is too much for my tiny brain.  But, as this armada of young men and women slides into the water to sail to new ports of higher education or employment, I offer this advice from a seasoned sailor.  Don’t mind my scars, eye patch and peg leg.  They are badges of honor – earned in life’s battles or incurred at one of several Grateful Dead concerts. I offer as my graduation gift, a tapestry of quotes and ideas that have influenced my life.  These nuggets were mined through hard labor in the quarries of life or handed down to me as by 19th, 20th and 21st century writers, leaders, philosophers, gadflys, comedians and state troopers.

“Class of 2009, you stand before us today as explorers ready to navigate the vast, unfathomable world of mankind. Just remember that the “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent” [1] and years from now, you will return to your high school reunion and say to yourself, “I can’t believe I let that jerk make me feel bad about myself”

Understand you know less about people than you think. “The only normal people you know are the people you do not know very well.” [2] As you go out into the world, remember everyone lives in a house filled with bright drawing rooms for their public face and dark closets where they hide their private dysfunction. Your task in life is to be the same person always – for the more you attempt to project a different person than you see yourself to be, the harder it will be to one day find your true self or pants that will fit you. Your goal in life is not to get ahead of the other guy, but get ahead of yourself – unless you are running in flip-flops. Great people understand they only can control how they react to life, not control it.  Always ask about the benefits plan and if a first year bonus is guaranteed.

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”[3] My advice is install a screen saver on your computer that says “ Dear (your name), I won’t be needing you today, Love, God. “  For you atheists, agnostics and armchair cynics, there is a God, and she does not need your help.  There are no burning bushes, only people who decide to make a difference and of course, Redsox fans.

When you decide to take on a task and later when you go into the workforce, understand that “if you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.”[4] You have to become knowledge workers as you are competing with a flat, hot crowded world of two billion peers who want your job and believe it is time that you wait on their table and rake their leaves.  Most of those competing with you did not spend last night watching old re-runs of Jackass, texting friends, twittering, ichatting or Facebooking.  They were doing math and science and actually liking it. They are intellectually hungry, well trained and eat fewer calories in a day than many of you eat in a meal.

Everyone you meet in life is significant and is a merely a different model manufactured on the same spiritual assembly line.  Everyone deserves your attention and respect – especially your art teacher. Smile and say hello to everyone. People matter and their lives matter.  Don’t allow yourself to dehumanize anyone.  Every man, woman or child’s death diminishes you whether it is in Danbury or Darfur. Look everyone in the eye and have a firm handshake. Learn the names of the people that pick up your trash, serve you food, drive your bus, clean your living areas, collect your tolls and serve your community.  “What is a city but its people”[5]

Do not borrow class notes from anyone who watches the View or has suffered at least four concussions. Don’t sell yourself short.  A person who doubts herself/himself is “like a man who would enlist in the ranks of his enemies and bear arms against himself. He makes his failure certain by himself being the first person to be convinced of it.”[6]

Learn about life and cultures outside America.  “To first understand the world, you must understand a place like Mississippi.”[7]We are 300M Americans on a planet of 6B people.  Be proud to be American and don’t feel the need to apologize for who we are when you travel abroad.  Don’t think less of America, just think of it less of the time. Seek to understand before being understood. Do not be one of the 92% of Americans who does not possess a passport and has not been abroad.  Visit a Muslim country.  Go to China.  Study the teachings of all the great prophets.  Visit Arlington Cemetery and never lose respect for our military.  Go to John Lennon’s grave and never lose respect for peacemakers. Never kiss a cannibal. Use Purell – often.

Remember that we are not driving the celestial car and that our best intentions and self-will often unintentionally take us into bad neighborhoods.  Be careful what you wish for.  Pray for courage and wisdom to effectively play the cards you are dealt and don’t whine about getting a poor hand – you can always bluff.  Don’t catastrophize your circumstances.  The worst-case scenario is that you become Paula Abdul and that is highly unlikely.

Have fun and remember these are the best years of your lives.  “It is indeed ironic that we spend our school days yearning to graduate and our remaining days waxing nostalgic about our school days.”[8]“At some point, your broad mind and narrow waist will begin changing places”[9]and the dreaded day will arrive where you will become your parents and they will become your children. Do not drink alcohol before 6pm and never order any drink called a “ Snake Bite”.

The very worst sin of all is self-centered fear.  Self-centered fear opens the Pandora’s box of all of our character defects causing one to compromise their true character by lying, cheating, stealing or voting Republican purely out of self interest. Be kind.  Say “I am sorry” and mean it.  Never gamble your sophomore year semester’s spending money in a Lake Tahoe casino. Look for ways to serve others and in losing yourself in service, you will become a person who is more beautiful and capable than your wildest imagination could have dreamed.  You are a super hero whose only kryptonite is self-doubt and a poor eating habits.  Do not sign up for any college class before 11am.

Read a translated book written by an author from a foreign country.  Study history – it is a distant mirror reflecting ourselves.  Loathe war but support our troops.  Vote with your heart, not your pocket book.  Sleep under the stars but use a mosquito net.  Never try to outrun the police in a Ford Granada. 

And finally, “never, ever hire an accountant named Frenchie”[10]or an investment advisor named Bernie.

Good luck and Godspeed

[1]  Eleanor Roosevelt


[2]  Oscar Wilde

[3]  Woody Allen

[4]  Vince Lombardi

[5]  William Shakespeare

[6]  Ambrose Bierce

[7]  William Faulkner

[8]  Isabel Wilson

[9]  Winston Churchill

[10] Woody Allen