Greetings class of 2012:
As a member of Generation X, I'd like to welcome you into what has been called "The Real World."
When I was in school, we were the generation that was going to destroy the country. The introduction of Bart Simpson would poison the youth, latchkey kids would go home to an unattended home and snort lines of cocaine, and after worshipping makeshift temples of Kurt Cobain we'd all make pilgrimages to Seattle to buy flannel while trying to find ourselves--damn the "man"--and refuse to work for corporations that would take away our sense of individuality.
Yeah, that happened.
But this isn’t about me and trying to wax poetic about “the good ol’ days”—this is about you. You see, I was at your graduation. I sat in a chair in a gymnasium, and I watched you walk across the stage. Some of you were scared, others were crying, many laughed, and a few just counted the moments until it would be all over.
What I didn’t see was bickering, swearing, tears of hurt, or words of pain. I’d like to think that I saw you as you truly are—at your best—the person that you are in your head behind all the walls of defenses and bravado. It’s fitting that this is where you decided to introduce yourself, since this is representative of your introduction into the world. The people I saw today are the people I’d like to know; they are the ones who can do great things.
Yet, let us be realistic. Many of you have been swimming against the stream your entire lives: homes without any food, homes with broken or distant or overbearing parents, substance abuse, unfair or unrealistic expectations, apathy, and so on. Quite, pensive guys who cry when all they want to do is go play the guitar in a coffee shop and live on Mac-n-Cheese, or tearful girls who expect perfection in every facet of life, constantly pushing themselves onward to a breaking point. Or the girl who goes home one day to discover that her entire family has moved without leaving a forwarding address….
You have been cracked-up, stepped on, and made to feel small…three feelings you will, unfortunately, become very familiar with your entire life. However, someone or something on shore tossed you a rope—brought you back to shore, got you on your feet, and shoved you back in the water to continue on. And you are still swimming. And for the love of God, “Don’t’ stop, don’t stop movin’”….
Back in the 1970s when I was a kid, Polaroids were the rage. You’d flip open the giant box of a camera, hear the *click* and whir of the film being created, and a black puffy plate of film would appear and magically turn into a picture within minutes. Most of the photos from my childhood are on puffy black framed Polaroid film that has been losing its vibrancy over time. And when the hats were tossed and balloons came tumbling down from the ceiling, I was glad to have a reason to escape quickly—to not interact with anyone from the crowd or any of you—because, first off, I could have never verbalized any of this—words are not my friends.
However, more importantly, is what occurs after the ceremony takes place. Group dynamics take over. Families and friends gather around the graduate; defenses go up; bravado amps itself up to full blast; and that initial expression of the true self goes back into hiding. Why would I want to witness that?
And to the one who stopped me in my tracks to say, “You are such a remarkable person. I’m going to miss you so much.”