At Large : Get going
At graduation ceremonies across the nation, this month and next, in secondary schools, colleges, graduate and professional schools, two themes, witlessly popular at the moment, will be common. Someone will advise graduates to follow their dreams. Others will tell graduates to offer themselves in public service.
In a gymnasium, a football stadium, on folding chairs set out on tarps to protect a basketball floor, beneath tournament banners and folded backboards and hoops, to the families, underclassmen, teachers, and graduates, such adjurations may seem mildly incomprehensible. At least, I hope they may.
The modest, civilized, amiable, well-educated people dominating most of these audiences will recall that they are living lives, not dreams, and that they have worked very hard to strengthen and enrich their families and businesses, the basic structural molecules of our remarkable, free, and exceptional society.
Of course, all of them have had dreams, some of which have been realized. Many of them have served their country, community, or fellow man, but all of them know that the successful route from graduation to grandparent-hood and retirement has required less dreaming and more doing, and a cautious balance between serving others and cultivating the well-being and success of one's family, one's profession, and perhaps one's business.
In these simple, lovely, promising gatherings, there may have been stirring summonses, perhaps a call to harken to distant trumpets, or to "make a difference" or "change the world" or "save the planet." It is quite possible that some of this spring's graduates will do one or the other of those things, or at least help. We'll see, and hope. But, what seems most likely, given the congenial, accomplished, relaxed and confident mood of these graduation interludes, is that these bright young people will become terrific friends, neighbors, fathers, mothers, grandparents, citizens, employers, discoverers, wealth makers, and contributors. And, these graduates ought to be told, all that will be plenty, and crucial.
Graduation day is one of those occasions that brings out the aphorist in everyone. Big day, one thinks, the words will have to be mighty. Can't have that hollow, meaningless sound words usually have. Big day, big thoughts.
Graduates will certainly be charged by graduation speakers with saving the globe, uniting the races, lifting the third world out of poverty, dulling the appetites of the first world, curing cancer, living their dreams, and, by the way, having fun. The last, of course, seems unlikely with all that difficult work ahead. No one will remind the graduates that all of these tasks require supreme individual effort by the farsighted or the sorely afflicted. That it's not merely, perhaps not ever, political leadership that gets these things done, but rather earnest, every day doing, by striving everyday people.