How do you write about your youngest graduating from high school without producing something soaked in clichés and syrupy schmaltz? Beats me. But I couldn’t let it just go by, any more than I did with her sister – to say it’s a major milestone in a person’s life is like saying the stimulus package spent a few bucks.
Finally I decided to go for … clichés and syrupy schmaltz. I’m not sure what schmaltz is – maybe it’s the nickname for the malts used in making Schlitz beer.
Jillian has gotten out of the habit of reading my columns, so I could relate pretty much any embarrassing incident without fear of retribution. Still, maybe I’ll stick to that old, hidebound tradition of giving advice. I know what you’re thinking: Why give her advice when she doesn’t read this anyway?
Well, why not? It’s not as if she’d listen to me if she was reading.
Jillian, for many years you were my friend as much as my daughter. Your sister went off and made her own life, but you were stuck with me. Gilmore Girls style, we went to the movies together, watched the same TV shows, took road trips long and short, and generally bantered our way through your teen years. Not good parenting, but I never claimed to be a good parent. Now I have a girlfriend, and I’ve always been okay with spending time alone, anyway. Still, you’ll probably hear more than one emoish whine about trips to the drive-in, late night Wal-Mart runs, and who the heck will be there to yell in frustration when Lost throws yet another plot twist at us?
This is the part where the music swells up and I give an inspiring/funny speech about wearing sunscreen. Frankly, I don’t feel overly pressured about that; as I said (and as the sunscreen guy originally said), you’re not going to listen, anyway. So here’s my real advice, to all graduates:
Don’t move out. It’s a scary world; stay home as long as possible, save on rent and utility bills. If your parents try to make you strike out on your own, pout.
Stay in college as long as possible. Take every class and every new educational opportunity for each minute that government loans allow. Some people live in college until they’re old enough for retirement, and is it really all that bad? Sure, you’ll eventually graduate with little knowledge of how real life works, but by that time there’s a possibility you’ll get hired as a college professor. It’s the circle of academic life.
Getting the education toward a good career is just gravy. Mainly, stay in college so you don’t have to throw yourself on the mercy of the job market. College classes are more difficult than high school, but compared to most real jobs they’re like swilling martinis at the Playboy Mansion.
Many capable people are out there taking taxpayer money for accomplishing nothing, without as much as a twinge on their conscience. (Sure, some are welfare cheats, but I’m mostly talking about politicians.) If I’ve raised you to be any kind of person at all, you’re going to want a real career, which means sending half your pay to bureaucracies that think you’re a human ATM machine. Delay that, and repaying government loans, as long as possible.
When you go out into the real world you’re going to discover several things that you think you already know, but that you’re really in denial about:
Life is not fair. Saying it should be doesn’t change that.
Most people never attain their dreams. (See above.) Follow them anyway. A life without dreams is pointless, and there’s a difference between a realist and a defeatist.
Have a backup plan. Most of us won’t be rock stars: There are too many applicants for too few positions. If you’re willing to put the work into it, shoot for rock stardom anyway – but if you have to work your way up the management ladder at McDonalds to pay for guitar lessons and speakers, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Conversely, a job is about more than money. Which is better: a job you hate that pays for your new Mustang, or a job you love that barely pays enough to keep you in ramen noodles? You’re going to spend half your waking hours at your job: Taking one you hate to pay the bills may be a stop-gap measure, but it’s no life. Take business classes, practice your drums, work on your novel, and never stop trying.
No one can tell you when to give up, unless you let them. That’s for you to decide.
In this life you’re going to meet people who gave up on their dreams and are bitter, full of hate, and eager to strip your dreams away, too. If you can, avoid them. You’re Dorothy Gale and they’re a field of poppies, trying to put you to sleep. If you have to spend any time with them – and you’re certain to have one as a boss, at some point – it doesn’t matter if you decide to succeed despite them, or because of them, or to show them it’s still possible – it only matters that you succeed.
Hm. Now that I think on it, go through life the way Dorothy went through Oz. In the book, Dorothy stepped into the unknown with hope and determination, maintained her good attitude, knew who her friends were and relied on them, and accomplished the tasks given her no matter how unsavory.
Where was I? Oh yes, advice that you won’t listen to. Wear sunscreen. That’s been done, hasn’t it? Okay, let’s wrap this up with don’t borrow money unless you have to, avoid credit cards like the plague they are, learn something new every day, and have either a job or a hobby that allows creativity, to keep your mind exercised.
Finally, you’ll know people who drown in excess: Those who want to help everyone in the world, and those who want to help only themselves. You’ll go crazy if you try to save the whole world. Just save your little part of it.
People who care only about themselves -- drug dealers, politicians, and so on -- are poison. If they’re in a position to poison others, it’s your duty to throw the bums out, whether it’s by voting, or volunteering within your community, or being a masked vigilante, or whatever. You need to care about something bigger than yourself.
I suppose I should finish with something stirring and inspirational, but you probably stopped reading at the first “sunscreen”. If you do happen to get this far, remember that friends come and go, but family is forever.
I told you it was a scary world.
(Photo by her sister, Charis!)