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GENERATIONS: Challenges are also opportunities for all of us

We face many challenges, but those challenges are also opportunities. It’s too late to have no regrets, but it’s not too late to turn around. We’ve got to stop traveling down the wrong road.

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I had prepared a column for today about graduation speeches, about traditions, about how, when I was at BHS, I enjoyed working with high school students who auditioned for one of the spots on that graduation program, about what I would say if I were to write and deliver a graduation speech today.

The message of my graduation speech, I decided, would be about opportunities, to take advantage of them to expand our horizons, to make lasting memories, to try new things, to take action, to be a do-er. But if the opportunities we pursue turn out not to be right for us, to back up and try something else.

The key theme of that column might be summed up in Nike’s old slogan: “Just DO It!” Rather than riding the tides, going with the flow and waiting for something to push us in whatever direction, we need to take action, to be the change we want to see.

My column quoted a line from a favorite Ogden Nash poem, “Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man.” I pulled my treasured copy of "The Pocket Book of Modern Verse" and turned to the dilapidated and yellow-with-age pages 444-445.

Nash’s point was that we all do things we shouldn’t do (He called them sins of commission), but, he said, “It is the sin of omission, the second kind of sin that lays eggs under your skin.”

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He follows that line with examples of sins of omission — things we’ve avoided, things we should’ve done but didn’t — and their ways of not giving us any satisfaction, unlike “sins of commission” that might at least have seemed like a good idea at the time.

The overall message of Nash’s poem is that you never get any fun out of the things you haven’t done. (I thought I remembered that very line from the poem, but upon re-reading, I discovered it isn’t there, even though it rhymes!)

My graduation speech column encouraged graduates to look for opportunities — large and small — everywhere, every day. Simple opportunities to make someone’s day brighter, to open a door open for someone (real or metaphorical), to listen when someone needs to talk, to talk when you need to and someone is willing to listen.

Take advantage of opportunities that push you outside your comfort zone, to learn about how other people think and experience the world. Find opportunities to do random acts of kindness.

Explore, find your paths (there are many) and follow the ones that can take you to your best places. And, if a path isn’t taking you where you want to go, do as a Turkish proverb recommends: “No matter how far you have gone on the wrong road, turn back.”

The road can be as simple as the beginning of a sentence. If it’s not going in a positive direction, turn back and stop the thought rather than say something you wish you hadn’t, something hurtful or insensitive. (That goes for text messages and other media, too.)

Find a new and better path, take the opportunity, let your world open up for you, and live so that you won’t regret the things you haven’t done, the opportunities you didn’t take.

That was my simple message. That was the graduation speech I would write today. Nothing special, nothing complex, just a nudge to pursue things that can take you to a good place, to follow paths that lead to a meaningful life.

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Would I have written that when I was 18? I don’t know. Maybe 50 extra years, some opportunities missed and some good paths taken have influenced the message.

Sometimes I think we need a good graduation speech, a good nudge, more as adults with several decades of life experience than we did as younger men and women. The older we are, the farther we might have traveled down the wrong road. We might think we no longer have opportunities, can’t turn back, can’t go a different direction at our age.

Three days of hearing details about another school shooting made it difficult for me to finish that column with a lighthearted “Get out there and do things” theme. The Turkish proverb looped continuously through my mind: “No matter how far you have gone on the wrong road, ...”

We have gone too far down the road of accepting mass shootings and gun violence as a part of our daily routine. We’ve had hundreds of opportunities to recognize this as the wrong road and to turn back.

But we haven’t taken those opportunities. It’s too much work, it’s too complicated, so it’s easier to react, bury dead children who have been denied the opportunities of summer vacation, playing with friends, growing up.

We’ve gotten so good at reacting. First responders and ER doctors and nurses know more about bullet wounds than they ever hoped to learn. We are good at holding vigils, at calling for prayers, at organizing funerals.

We’re good at repeating the phrases we’ve heard so often, lines of sympathy and frustration and demands for something to be done “so that nothing like this ever happens again.”

Please, class of 2022 — and previous classes, no matter how many decades ago — can we be bolder than those who can’t or won’t go down a better road?

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We face many challenges, but those challenges are also opportunities. It’s too late to have no regrets, but it’s not too late to turn around. We’ve got to stop traveling down the wrong road.

Related Topics: GENERATIONS
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