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Knowing your audience | Chuck's World


Last updated 6/7/2017 at Noon

Caps and gowns have started to fill my newsfeed, along with various celebrity commencement speakers. This always surprises me, since I believe there’s a season for graduations and this isn’t it.

I mean, of course it is. It’s June, for one thing, and I’ve actually spotted blue sky on more than one occasion, both of which are signs. Lots of people are graduating, as they always do. They’re just not my people.

In the giant Venn diagram of life, late-spring ceremonies that mark particular milestones in young lives, such as graduations and weddings, intersect with the rest of our not-so-young lives only briefly. I’m talking about most of us, and actually I can only speak for me, but I’m assuming we’re all in the same boat.

And I guess we could refer to these times as stages of life, but I’m going to go with seasons. At some point, June becomes an important month, filled with commencements of all sorts. We graduate ourselves, we marry, we go to a lot of graduations and weddings, and then we stop. A few decades go by, and all of a sudden we start all over again. It feels like a season.

My children have long since done all the graduating and marrying they’re likely to do for the foreseeable future, as have the children of friends and family. The only announcements that come in the mail these days are from insurance companies, and they’re not as much fun.

It is fun, too. I’m always up for a big moment in somebody’s life, and somebody’s always doing something at some point. But I’m sticking with seasons, and my next one is probably 15 years away, assuming I can stick around that long.

This would be the grandchild generation, but now I’m just beating a dead analogy here. It’s a cyclical thing, like much of our lives, and not a brilliant insight.

What I’m really thinking about are those special commencement speakers. I imagine that a teacher or school administrator could speak from experience, understanding what these young people have accomplished and able to maybe point them toward true north, although this is an odd thing to do.

I distinctly remember listening to my high school graduation speaker offer wisdom and guidance, and wondering why, after four years of school, they waited until the end to tell us the really important stuff.

So I couldn’t even pretend to offer advice to the class of 2017, which is a good thing since no one is asking.

I can’t imagine having anything useful to offer to a generation that has no memory of the 20th century. A generation that had their own smartphones by elementary school. A generation that knows too well what to do if, God forbid, they hear gunshots in the hallways. I couldn’t even begin to speak to this, or know what to suggest as they move on.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently gave the commencement address at Harvard. If it seems awkward to have a graduation speaker who neglected to actually graduate, it also seems a perfect choice. Young enough to remember, and successful enough to share some insights from a contemporary viewpoint.

If I were 22 and graduating from college, I think I’d pay attention to this guy.

I don’t remember a word my high school graduation speaker said, other than the usual stuff that apparently comes from some sort of speaker handbook. How the word “commencement” means “beginning,” which once again they probably should have taught us before.

Sharing a bitter denunciation of young people these days, and then telling us that those negative words belonged to Aristotle. We would have been grateful to have smartphones to pass the time.

It occurs to me now that these sorts of self-serving, obligatory life lessons dished out to a mass of young people eager to get away from adult supervision would be better if aimed at another audience. Which would be the rest of us.

We’re the responsible party here. High school seniors didn’t start any wars. Most of them couldn’t vote in the last election, and none of them had a hand in creating the world we live in. If you watch them walk across the stage, and you make a snide comment about actually seeing a young person who’s not looking at their phone, I suggest you observe the audience instead and take note of what Mom and Dad (and probably Grandma and Grandpa) are holding in their sweaty little hands.

Who’s sneering at unpleasant facts and calling it fake news? Who’s screaming about taxes and sucking up a majority of the benefits? Who’s been out of school so long they forgot the difference between “you’re” and “your” and then forgot they forgot?

Yeah. I think this is on us.

I’m painting with a broad brush here, another thing old people tend to do. The good things in this world have come from previous generations, and there are plenty to choose from. And young people can be awfully annoying with their youth and energy.

My generation cleaned up some messes left behind. I wish we could have passed on a better world, but cleaning up after your elders is a rite of passage, and if anything that’s what I’d tell them. Sorry about that, and good luck.

And I hope Mr. Zuckerberg told the graduates to not spend so much time on Facebook, but then. I’m still talking about us.


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