Kids all over Louisiana graduated last week from kindergarten, grade school, high school, college and graduate schools. And there was always a commencement speaker. Most of you will never give a commencement address. But as a public official, I was called on to give a number of them. And guess what? I don’t remember any of the advice that I gave to these newly minted graduates.
In the 80s, when I served as Louisiana Secretary of State, I was asked to be the commencement speaker at two Louisiana universities. In 1983, I spoke to the graduating class at Northwestern University in Natchitoches. Future Pro bowler and Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert was in that class and heard whatever words of wisdom I had to offer.
In 1985, I was called to share advice and admonitions with the graduating class of Louisiana Tech in Ruston, which included future NBA all star Karl Malone. I’m sure my challenges to “work hard… change the world… and follow your dreams,” came across as some old guy who was over the hill giving advice to graduates who were primarily worried about getting a job and paying off their college loans.
So what practical advice can I share that might make a real difference in the lives of those graduating, today? Instead of listing tired platitudes, I suggest that you let common sense that can be carried and nourished through the years be your guide.
At this stage of your lives, you are not all that special. No, you are not the future. At least, not yet. You have been given a toolbox. Hopefully, you had teachers who opened your eyes to possibilities of what has meaning for you. But now it’s up to you to use these tools to make your own path. Here is my short list of thoughts that should come from your toolbox.
First, recognize that there really haven’t been that many good ideas. If we’re all so smart, then why were more people killed in this past century than in every other century combined? I submit that the only really good idea was the Sermon on the Mount. I hope you have read it, but if not, you should. It’s simply a challenge to live a life that is free from hypocrisy, full of love and grace, and full of wisdom and discernment. Pretty simple stuff. Maybe one of you will come up with another good idea in future years, and then we’ll have two good ideas.
Second, forget the Code of Hammurabi. Remember the old axiom, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?” Vengeance gets you nowhere. I had my run in with the federal government, and I was pretty bitter for years. But reprisal is a waste of time. Try maintaining a loving family and good friends. And keeping your health. All the rest is small stuff.
Now here is a short list of the small stuff that does make sense.
Don’t get swallowed up by your computer. It’s actually a pretty neat world out there, full of many choices, so use your time to soak it all in.
Keep music in your life. And remember all you Cajuns and Rednecks like me: all American music -- jazz, rock and roll, swing, the Beatles, Broadway, and many other forms were derived from the blues that came right out of this deepest of the deep southern states.
Cigarettes? I like author Kurt Vonnegut’s description. A fire at one end and a fool at the other.
Read and keep plenty of books. Have a pencil handy to underline something profound that you might go back to and read again. And keep your books. Mine are old friends.
And that’s about all the small stuff I can pass on for now. So snap a baccalaureate selfie, toss your graduation cap into the air, and as you proceed, make a commitment to keep adding to your toolbox. Remember that the road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places.So stay the course. Reach for the moon. But don’t miss out on all the small pleasures that surround you every day. Enough said. Good luck with your life.