Graduates: Time to show responsibility is a priority

May 25, 2004|By Susan Reimer

WHITE HOUSE Chief Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales delivered the commencement address at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg this weekend, and during his speech he wondered aloud why he had spent his time driving two hours to give advice to people he doesn't know and will likely never meet again.

They should have invited me to speak.

After all, that's what I do - give unsolicited and unappreciated advice to young people who will do what they want anyway. They happen to be my kids, but that only means I have had a lot more practice feeling irrelevant than your average commencement speaker.

As Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton told graduates this spring, commencement speakers are "kind of like the parsley on the plate at dinner." Parents are often like that, too.

But we never let a little something like being ignored get in the way of giving advice, and I refuse to let the fact that I have not been invited to address any graduates stop me from speaking my mind.

So here goes. This is what I would have said to some unsuspecting high school senior class if only they'd have asked me to speak:

Distinguished members of the Class of 2004:

Get a job. Get two or three while you are at it. Your parents have been putting gas in your car, metaphorically speaking, for 18 years. Pull your own weight this summer and bank the rest.

And whether you are dog-sitting or working in the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab for the summer, show up on time and with some initiative. Never give an employer a reason to regret hiring you.

Spend a little of that money on graduation gifts for the people who helped you graduate: A favorite teacher, a coach or a tutor. Or - hey, here's a concept - your mom and dad or your big brother.

Don't kid yourself, you'd have never made it without them, and they deserve your thanks.

You aren't out of the house yet, so don't be rolling home at any 3 a.m. this summer. There is nothing in the fine print of a high school diploma about the rules having suddenly changed at home.

Your parents are old, and they need their sleep, and they won't get it with you out roaming the streets in a continuous celebration of the fact that school is out.

Clean up the kitchen after yourself, and hang up the towels in the bathroom or your parents are going to need therapy.

They'd like to believe you are an emerging young adult who can care for himself outside of their vigilance. If you can't load a dishwasher or remember to turn the toaster oven off after you use it, they are going to think they failed.

Worse, they are going to decide you aren't smart enough to go away to college.

Speaking of college, there are two simple prescriptions for academic success: Don't party on school nights - and Sundays and Thursdays are school nights - and don't cut any classes. If you don't do the former, you are less likely to do the latter.

Woody Allen probably said this in a commencement address: "Ninety percent of life is just showing up." That applies to college, too.

June is reportedly the most popular month for teens to lose their virginity. Apparently it is a traditional part of graduation celebrations. But don't just wait until July or August - you are still too young to handle the complexities of a sexual relationship.

Wait until you graduate from college.

And speaking of celebrating, don't drink after tonight's ceremony. If you are stupid enough to drink and lucky enough not to get busted for it, for heaven's sake, don't drive. And don't get in the car with anybody who has been drinking.

Need a buzz-kill? Imagine your mother's face on the day of your funeral.

Thank you for inviting me here tonight to mark your high school graduation. Enjoy the rest of the evening, but not too much, and be home by midnight.

Let me leave you with this last bit of wisdom: As a gift or as an accessory, pearls are always appropriate.

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