My last son graduated high school yesterday.
Of his many tasks as senior class president (brag moment), picking a commencement speaker was his job – working through school officials, of course.
Given my newspaper job, he asked me ... for suggestions.
Yes, I thought he was asking me. He was – but just for names.
I obliged. We sat at the table coming up with a list of familiar names. That failed. They’d been asked, they’d already done it, etc.
So I dug deep into my work to find some cool Valley people. Those didn’t work. Not from this town, doesn’t live in this town, etc.
I’m still thinking quietly “I’d like to.”
I mean, I’m not brilliant. But the Austintown Retirees Group sent me a “thank you” for speaking, as did the Canfield Ladies Republican Club. They gave me wine, too. Red, of course.
Youngstown Rotary has had me twice – one for sure was a fill-in for a no-show. Maybe both were and they were too nice to tell me.
So more suggested names came home. I hear them. One guy sandbags at golf, and I’m thinking “Huh?” By now, I’m kinda bummed. I’m thinking “Fifth-grade tours have a blast with me.”
I thought I could help my cause with some tactical moments around the house. If I said “Four score and seven cable bills ago ...” – could that be a clue?
Or “Ask not what this vacuum can do for you ...”
Alas, it did not happen. They got a local entrepreneur, and he was great.
In the end, I thought I really didn’t have much to offer. My work is really other people’s work, right? Your games. Your fire calls. Your business openings. Your court cases. What do I do? I guess I meet people. I listen. Then I try to represent them.
And I also reasoned – who remembers commencement speeches? It’s a tough, thankless task.
But we remember lines – ones that motivate or inspire; ones wickedly wise; ironic but helpful. Others are crude, but spot on. They’re posted on walls, desks, above toilets, etc.
So if I had to give that speech yesterday, I reasoned that rather than write a speech, I would just spew one-liners – but smart ones, a “best-of’s”
And being that my job is to talk to others, I asked others. So here’s lines they live by, stolen by me, to make the key points of a speech I could not give:
Leave your change in a vending machine.
If a car in a parking lot is exactly like yours, park next to it.
Listen more, talk less. Then, when you speak up more people will listen.
Don’t do something the same way just because it has always been done that way.
When you stop chasing the wrong things, the right ones have a chance to catch up.
There are few things more gratifying than helping someone because it’s the right thing to do.
Don’t burn bridges; you never know how people will come back into your life later.
Be generous in forgiving others who have wronged you.
Travel the back roads and stop at the roadside attractions.
When you poop your pants, you wipe and keep going.
Knowledge is much more valuable when combined with wisdom.
Never be “too cool’ to make funny faces at kids.
Dance the “Electric Slide” at a wedding.
Every person alive is living out his or her own story. Try to always be one of their good guys.
The good you do today is forgotten tomorrow. But do good anyway.
When you throw dirt, you lose ground.
Failure is an event, not a person.
Put your deodorant on AFTER you put on your shirt. Any other method is far too risky.
Regardless of how busy you become, never forget to call your mother.
Do what you say you will do.
Step up for a stranger in need – especially if it’s awkward and inconvenient.
When life hands you lemons, grab a cold beer.
Make your bed each day.
When facing a tough choice, ask yourself: “What is this situation doing to me?” “What is this situation doing for me?” If the answers to both questions are negative, walk away.
When at a restaurant, find a veteran family or an elderly couple, and pick up their dinner tab via your server ... And don’t say a word.
Sometimes it’s better to do the right thing rather than do things the right way.
Wake up each morning with a grateful heart and a purpose.
Don’t fight on or with social media. Just share and move.
Peanut butter goes on one slice; jelly goes on the other.
Never take a sleeping pill at the same time you take a laxative.
Regardless of how good or bad you have it, everyone struggles – financially, socially, mentally.
Pull your weight today.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
That’s some of what came to me. There were more. Do you have any?
Many song lyrics and literary lines came in, and I’ll close with ones from The Fray and Maya Angelou.
Why? The Fray was around for about a minute in the 1990s; Maya has been around a lifetime and beyond.
But that their words came in to me equally seemed to prove: You can have an impact in life – even one life – regardless of your wealth, your job, your training, etc. That you’re human and you’re alive are your only two tools needed.
(That’s from me by the way.)
In closing ...
“Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same,” from The Fray.
And from Maya:
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.