I have already tackled the difficult task of preparing a high school commencement speech. Not surprisingly, no one took me up on my offer to speak at any high school commencement. High school, though, is not the only ground upon which to impart my wisdom.
Perhaps I should speak to a college or university. Public figures and captains of industry often do that. Alas, I am neither. That goal simply isn’t realistic.
What about elementary or middle school grads? I didn’t go to a middle school, so I don’t know anything about that. As far as those entering high school, most of them are morons and won’t listen anyway.
This leaves me with kindergarten, that Petri dish of preschoolers ready to take on real school. I graduated from kindergarten as part of the Harlan Kindergarten Class of 1968. It was my only foray into private school, as there was no public kindergarten in those days. I graduated with a haughty sense of entitlement.
I would have benefited from wise counsel in those days. I now stand ready to educate kindergarteners on what lies before them. To paraphrase the late, great drummer, Buddy Rich: These people. They are my kind of people. So, here goes:
Hello, kids! Thank you for allowing me to speak to you today. Today is an important moment in your young lives. After today, you are no longer preschoolers. You are students and shall remain so for many years to come.
As you are no doubt aware, “kindergarten” is from the German, meaning “children’s garden.” It was created by a German named Friederich Frobel in the village of Bad Blankenburg. Stop giggling! That’s the name! You’ll be calling the world ahead of you blankin’-burg soon enough.
Up to this point, many of you have gotten by on your appearance. You are, as we say, cute. That will rapidly fade in elementary school. We will lose teeth and become awkward as you grow. Being cute means nothing. Every misanthrope and human monster was once your age. Look at this darling child [I hold this up for the audience]:
His name? Adolf Hitler. Cute, isn’t he?
Many–if not most–of you are unprepared for school. A great number of you are complete illiterates, unable to so much as correctly spell your full name. Others are only functionally illiterate. You cannot read even at the 1st grade level. Your ability to understand or complete even a simple job application is nil. Even rudimentary math is beyond your comprehension at this point. As a result of these limitations, you are unable to function in modern society. These handicaps, daunting as they may be, can and will be remedied in the coming years–at least to some extent.
Some of you now begin your long, slow trudge to failure–sad but true. You will annoy your teachers. You will gravitate to the worst of your lot and mimic their behavior. Perhaps you will be the ring leader of a group of miscreants. If so, make no mistake: You can and will be written off at a young age. The good news is that–for the only time in your life–time is on your side. As unlikely as it may be, you can change your behavior for the better.
Many of you are angels or so your parents have led you to believe. You are sweet and when you aren’t, you are simply misunderstood. Your failures and shortcomings are not your own. They are the product of misinformed individuals or society as a whole. Your parents are failing you daily, but I do not expect you to understand. Being egocentric as you are, you are comfortable with this arrangement. This comfort sows the seeds of your ultimate downfall. When you fall short of expectations at school, your parents will harangue your teachers, blaming them for your sloth and intellectual shortcomings. Only when you are much older will you realize that your house stands upon sand. Then, it will be too late.
Some of you are tethered to your parents like pets. You never leave their sight. They are determined to protect you from the evils of the world and the world itself. They will often lunch with you at school. Perhaps they will volunteer in your classroom. Some may even seek gainful employment at your school. They seek to smother you with their attention. And they will succeed.
A few–and I hope very few–of you are little more than street urchins deposited at school by uncaring parents who neither deserve to have children nor any other human relationship. There is good news for you. It is possible–not likely, but possible–that you will encounter someone who can exert a positive influence upon you outside your home. School is the most likely place to find such a person.
You may be an only child. By that, of course, I mean you are the only child in your immediate family. YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY CHILD ON EARTH! Just remember that.
Of course, you will encounter teachers. In my experience, the good far outnumber the bad. The good ones will care about you like no one outside your own family. The bad ones will want to herd you on the next grade while they detest you almost as much as they do their dead-end jobs. Most of your teachers do the best they can. Your cooperation will help.
Your teachers may occasionally criticize or correct you. That is their job. That is how you learn. This may be foreign to you. Your parents may be the type who praise everything you do from feeding yourself to basic hygiene. Your teachers shall prepare you for the real world where such tasks are not viewed as accomplishments at all. In fact, society fairly demands you master them.
Your teachers also cannot praise your every move. I have no doubt that all of you have drawn pictures for your parents. Let’s say you draw what you called a “horsey.” In reality, this horse resembles nothing so much as random scrawling with no form. It is, in fact, completely unrecognizable as a horse or any other living creature. When you present this picture to your parents they exclaim “Oh, what a pretty horsey! It’s beautiful!” Such lies are meant to boost your self-esteem by lauding your crude art work. If an adult produced such a drawing and insisted that it was horse, he or she would branded as mentally deranged. Institutions and unemployment would be their future.
A decent parent would look at your drawing and ask “What exactly about that looks like a horse?” or “Why don’t we just call it a wildebeest or a fire hydrant? Makes as much sense.” I doubt that you have ever received such constructive criticism. Those days are done.
No teacher worth his or her salt can engage in such foolishness. If you declare that 2 + 2 equals 11, you cannot be praised. You are not praiseworthy.
Despite what your parents think, there is almost no chance that you are a genius. That you are able to distinguish letters of the alphabet means little. It is axiomatic that most of you are average. That’s not to say that there aren’t exceptions. Some of you are far, far smarter than your peers. That will not change, although you shall be witness to many years of people trying to bring your peers up to your level or you down to theirs. But you are smarter than these people, too, and they will fail.
You are now headed to a world where failure is, in fact, an option. The good news is that the educational system is designed to prevent failure. In addition to your teachers, there are counselors, tutors, study plans and even medication at your disposal. Perhaps you are now addicted to amphetamines in an effort to help you pay better attention in school. That might help. Of course, the downside to living as a speed freak is well-known but better discussed at your middle school graduation.
No doubt you reflect today that time flies. It seems like only yesterday that you soiled yourself simply because you knew no better. For a few of you, it literally may have been yesterday. In any event, those days are behind you now–hopefully. A new day dawns.
You now leave the garden and head straight into the jungle. Knowing your penchant for distraction, I have kept my words brief. Some of you have picked your noses throughout my talk while others have squirmed with annoyance. Welcome to the rest of your life.