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JENKINS: The best commencement address I've never heard

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

Dozens of high schools in metro Atlanta and not one has ever invited me to give the commencement address. Go figure.

Instead, those plum assignments go to assorted ministers, politicians and local celebrities, most of whom recite the same tired cliches while hundreds of teenagers pay slightly less attention than they do to their parents, which is to say none.

Imagine, for a moment, a commencement speaker who eschewed platitudes in favor of truth. (Not that it would ever happen. Most local school board policies expressly prohibit anyone from exposing high school students to the truth). Such an address might sound something like this:

"Honored graduates, proud parents, distinguished faculty, imperial administrators: Greetings. Students, today you graduate from high school, which is clear evidence that a) you are alive, and b) you have attended school with some regularity for at least 13 years.

"Some would say that graduation is not an end but a beginning. That is not entirely true. The conclusion of today's ceremony will bring the end of many things, not least of which is the government's authority to compel you to line up in alphabetical order and wear matching outfits. After today, you must make your own moral and fashion choices.

"Today you also emerge from your sheltered cocoon of parental intervention. From now on, you succeed or fail on your own. Your parents will not be able to get your college professors fired because those professors expect you to perform at a certain level or behave according to a particular standard. For those of you not going to college, your parents won't be able to get your manager at McDonald's fired, either.

"Some would have you believe that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. Sadly, that is untrue. You will not become president of the United States. You will not date Megan Fox. You will not end racism, bring about world peace, or win 'American Idol.'

"But if you decide what you really want to do in life, if you work so hard at it that you barely have time to text your BFF, if you consistently sacrifice immediate gratification for little more than the hope of future gain, if you persevere through multiple failures, if you are not squashed by a tractor-trailer on I-285 -- all monumental ifs -- eventually you may approach something resembling fulfillment.

"If you don't want to do any of those things, you can always sit around, play video games, and Hope for Change.

"In closing, your principal asked me to remind you that you should always take responsibility for your actions. He also insisted that I read the following disclaimer: 'The views expressed by this speaker are entirely his own, not those of the administration. We hereby deny any connection to or association with this speaker. In fact, we've never even heard of him.'

"Thank you, and good luck."

Rob Jenkins is a local writer and college professor. Email him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.