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

Speed Sticks And Pushers

Speed Sticks and Pushers


Health class (n), 1. A compulsory educational tollbooth through which every middle school child must travel.  2. A valuable roadmap for pre and post pubescents to assist navigation along the highways of life.  3. A learning curriculum designed to reverse all disinformation learned from one’s older siblings


In the days of Nixon, Watergate and presidential pardons, health class was segregated between girls and boys. There was the domesticus curriculae, better known as Home Economics, for girls; and “Health” class for boys hosted by our mustached, dolphin shorted PE teacher Mr. Stebbins who my father sarcastically remarked looked like an adult film star.


While the girls were railroaded into baking, maintaining proper Redbook posture and ultimately hypnotized into believing that Prince Charming did actually exist and was out there waiting wearing clean underwear, boys were taught the proper techniques for donning a jock strap, avoiding women with venereal diseases and abstaining from drugs with names like ” bennies”, ” uppers”, ” downers”, “Horse” and “Mary Jane”.


We were subjected to anti-drug propaganda to scare us straight.  In the annals of anti-drug films, the 1967 classic, “Pit of Despair” stood as a classic – converting the most impressionable among us into paranoid purists who would rather die of influenza than take medication. After viewing  “Pit Of Despair”, I was afraid to take so much as a Bayer aspirin for fear of waking up running naked down the Santa Monica freeway shrieking, ” the moon is following me…and he has a gun!”


Every anti-drug flick offered a similar plot featuring a normal suburban kid relenting to peer pressure, and agreeing to attend a wild “tea” party with lava lamps, 30 watt bulbs, throw pillows, sitar music, bell bottomed girls and drug dealers known as “pushers”. In a lost weekend of drug and alcohol abuse, the protagonist ends up with more holes in his arm than a cribbage board, screaming as he looks at his party mates who are no longer people but grotesque demons with narrow pink beaks.  Instead of fleeing the den of iniquity, he takes a more direct route to the street, leaping out an open window shouting, “Look at me! I can fly!”.  Meanwhile, his emotionally dead friends look on in sociopathic indifference as a rag doll dummy floats horrifyingly with flailing arms down to the cement sidewalk below.


Some were quick to dismiss the exaggerated melodrama of “Pit of Despair”, but we were all on the look out for pushers. I was convinced anyone with long hair or a beard was a drug dealer.  Even Sammy Davis Jr. played a heroin dealer, Sportin’ Life, in the move, “Porgy and Bess”. He later sang a song in 1972 whose lyrics, I was convinced, were clearly code for encouraging drug use.  The innocent ditty, “The Candy Man Can”, was played on countless conservative AM radio stations and hummed by clueless suburban housewives as they picked out their Webber Bread in the grocery store.


Drug use obviously was rampant and if you sniffed, puffed or popped, you were likely to immediately grow long hair, quit taking baths and barely manage a two-syllable response to any question.  You pretty much just walked around all day saying, “solid, man.” These wild haired, drug crazed gutter trash were called “hippies” and they existed like body snatchers to co-opt you into a life of drugs, promiscuous sex and crime – the trifecta of worthlessness according to my father. John Lennon memorialized the quintessential hippie in the song, “Come Together.”  The Beatles were notorious for putting symbols and subliminal drug messages in songs like “Hey Jude”, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and even the “Yellow Submarine” extolling the virtues of expanding one’s mind with opiates and hard narcotics. 


The insidious creep of drugs had to be stopped.  According to my Dad, the “French Connection” from Marseilles to New York would need to be choked off in its tracks or America would become a giant opium den – succumbing to Communism because we could not see or hear the Reds coming through the haze of our smoke and loud music.


While girls blindly emerged from Home Economics as SWITs (Stepford Wives in Training) with new appreciation for the wonders of baking soda as a panacea for odors, heartburn and insect bites, boys suddenly saw powdered sugar and flour as sinister accessories for pushers to further corrupt the poison as they unleashed it on Main Street.


The officer who briefed us on drugs and the warning signs of addiction was a

Detective with a thick Brooklyn accent, which only seemed to underscore the gravity of our drug problem. After all, what’s a NY cop doing in Southern California unless the “connection” was somewhere lurking in the shadow of our ivory tower.  He told us about cartels and drug lords.  He told us to watch for pushers hanging around the playground and baseball fields.


As we jogged in gym class, we pondered the identity of the alpha pusher running our town’s local drug ring.  Who was “Mr. Big?”  The big kahuna was often depicted in movies as a benign law abiding citizen by day and a ruthless distributor of narcotics, prostitution and murder by night.  Perhaps he could be our middle school principal, Mr. White. If he was the man, he could not be working alone. His VP of students, Mr. Gilligan, must be the strong arm of the operation – dealing not only drugs but also detentions.  These clever punishments delayed kids after school and forced them to walk home alone where his network of pushers might more easily trap them. 


I confided my entire theory to my brother and was immediately ratted out to my father.  My Dad was furious, “You will get our butts sued.  Michael. What were you thinking?”  Weighing the cost/benefit of investigating a major drug ring but having to weed the backyard until the year 2015, I gave up on Mr. White.  However, I never stopped scanning the playground for dealers.  Sportin’ Life could be anywhere waiting to snare us into a life of addiction.


I am now told that today’s health classes are more politically correct but remain true to the major building blocks of adolescent development – drug and alcohol prevention, body change, sexual responsibility and hygiene.  We can always tell when Health class is in session as one of our boys comes home smelling like a Mennen Speed Stick.  For the next week, the boy is a walking Glade Room freshener as he lathers his entire body with deodorant hoping to attract someone or something.  Usually, he attracts a few flies and the cat. At dinner, he informs us about hygiene as if we were immigrants just off the boat on Ellis Island.  My wife nods with a sardonic smile indicating that perhaps her husband could use a refresher course. 


Health class seems not to have lost its punch.  It may carry a different scent and rely less on fear than information but it has come of age. It has kept pace with the 21st century and has finally understood that health is in the end, a coed experience.  Kids do not seem too concerned about pushers and are clearly more informed about the consequences of unhealthy lifestyles.  Yet the Achilles heel of each generation is the fact that they believe they know more than their elders.  Alas, they are still kids. The rote facts they learn are only words and not always understood.  We only hope these seeds of health and wellness germinate at the right times.


And judging from the fact that my son has not bathed in three days, not everyone is practicing what is being preached.  I have to go find that Speed Stick and leave it under his pillow.