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Dear Class of 2014:

I am writing this to you because they never ask parents to give a commencement address. We’re too much in shock to say anything beautiful or poignant enough to mark the occasion.

My daughter Thryn, known to the family as Kate, graduates from High School today. I couldn’t be prouder, happier, sadder, or more in awe than I am today. She and all of you, every last one, are the coolest and most intelligent people I know. Today we hand over to you more than a slip of paper, we give you the keys to the sputtering and dangerous vehicle we call adulthood. It’s gonna be one Hell of a ride.

At the Father Daughter Dance, February 2005

At the Father Daughter Dance, February 2005

Your actual commencement address will be a catalog of wisdom given by someone else. It’s all well intended, but no great American novel, successful business, or a Nobel Prize is the achievement that you are. From the first time I held Kate in my arms moments like this collapsed together into a singularity, painted in watercolor eyes set in a gilded frame of love. I was here before when I watched her chase after bugs, from the audience at a choir concert, or sitting in the car far too late at night waiting for her to appear at the door of a home brightly partied up.

Perhaps this letter should be to her, but I can’t help but think that I’m trusting you all to carry on the drama, silliness, and little bits of wisdom we’ve shared together these 18 years. You’re all in this together, and you will remember that for the rest of your lives. There isn’t much more for me to tell Kate, so I’m telling you instead. If you all love her as much as I do, she’s going to be allright. You’re all going to be allright.

Getting to know you all as you got to know yourselves has been the greatest joy of my life. As a generation you are practical doers, people who expect nothing more from life than what you can make of it. Hard times shaped you, but very few of you let your hearts become hard. To a person you have great bullshit detectors. I can’t wait for you to make the world in your own image.

All roads lead ahead.

All roads lead ahead.

My generation hasn’t done so well, so I have to apologize. There’s so much hatred, debt, stupidity, and whining in the world you’re walking into. Those are all ghosts of the disconnected lives so many of us slacked into, and I hope you won’t remember us for it. Know that you are loved and we did our best, even when we didn’t know what we were doing – which was just about all the time. You are our greatest achievement by a longshot.

But here we are, all together in this moment. There’s nothing to fear. You will all do well if you remember what made life joyous. You learned the focus it took to get you this far through the tedious schoolwork to the point where we can say you’ve absorbed enough to be recognized as a responsible adult. The very idea of a commencement address dispensing last minute bits of wisdom is silly. Perhaps they don’t let us parents do the talking because we know the real truth – that you taught us all these years at least as much as we were able to teach you.

Words alone don’t make moments like this anywhere near as well as the words that still can’t bubble their way up. They fall in thin tears, sliding past a beaming smile that speaks louder than mere language. “I know you, and you are great. The only thing that makes this day difficult is that I will miss you.” And I do, already.

Go forth and be great. Be happy. Be you. You’re ready to be out in the world, but we still don’t know if the world is ready for you. It’s going to be one Hell of a ride, for sure.

2 thoughts on “Commencement

  1. Dear Members of the High School Class of 1980-1984:

    Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson

    …I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
    Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
    Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
    That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
    Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
    Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
    For always roaming with a hungry heart
    Much have I seen and known; cities of men
    And manners, climates, councils, governments,
    Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
    And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
    Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
    I am a part of all that I have met;
    Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
    Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
    For ever and forever when I move.
    How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
    To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!

    Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
    One equal temper of heroic hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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