Saturday, June 21, 2008

Dear Dave

As a regular reader of this space, you may have noticed that I try and write each week for the broadest possible audience. I pick topics and use references which I think will be understood not only by people who know me and my sensibilities, but by those with whom I only have a passing acquaintance. That means I try and avoid jargon, in-jokes and personal references that would only be understood by a few, be they select or not.

But this week is different. On the day this is published, you will graduate from high school and look towards college. As one of the great rites of passage, it's an occasion filled with many traditions, from caps and gowns worn proudly to Pomp & Circumstance played endlessly. Almost without exception, there is also a commencement speaker. He or she will offer words of wisdom, exhorting you and your fellow classmates to honor your past and prepare for the future, to do what you can to make this a better world, and to have fun along the way.

Good advice, to be sure. But just as I aim to connect with as many as possible, the speaker will of necessity do the same. With a diverse audience composed of graduates, parents, family and guests, specifics have to go by the wayside. That doesn't make the comments any less pertinent, just less personal.

In this space and on this day, however, I feel no such limitations. Just this once, my audience is not broad, but rather exceedingly narrow. Others may read this, and if perchance they find something of value or interest, that's a bonus. But truth be told, it isn't meant for them. Today I will exercise some personal privilege, and speak to an audience of only one: you.

Where to start? It would be easy to fill the space with the platitudes that every parent wants to pass on as instructions for their children's lives. We utter them constantly, well aware they may not be heeded. Since you're a history buff, you should appreciate Lincoln's famous phrase, which is just as applicable in this venue: "the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here." Unlike that address at Gettysburg, much of our comments seem trite. Yet they are valid none the less. Always keep your eye on the horizon. Treat everyone with respect. Take time out to smell the roses. Eat more bran. Just as Lincoln was wrong, I hope you will recall at least some of these guiding principles.

But knowing you as I do, I can be a bit more specific. You've already learned the most important lessons, about keeping your eyes and your ears and your heart open, and doing the best you can with what you have. Indeed, you've never let your hearing issues be a crutch, and have conquered that challenge with grace and courage. In a way, that's a guide to use wherever you go, whatever you do: understand your limitations rather than curse them, and build from there.

Likewise, you've already learned that any day is a good day if you learn something new. Your inquisitiveness knows no bounds. Never let that stop. The topic doesn't matter: it can an arcane piece of history about World War II or a new move in a video game, a jazz classic you've never heard before or a piece of satire from Futurama. Each enriches your life in some way. And in doing so, it lets you enrich those around you and the world as a whole.

And you've taken to heart the concept of giving more than you get. Your work with the Fire Department has crystallized this. Sure, there's a rush from racing to the scene with lights and sirens blaring, but I'm willing to bet it's nothing compared to the rush you get when you realize that you have helped someone. I hope that regardless of the venue, you will continue to be one that helps others however he can.

Two recent events have also driven home two other messages I want... indeed need... to pass on to you. Without trying to put a damper on this happy occasion, both involve sad events. As I wrote to my sister after the passing of my father, if there was any silver lining to that dark cloud, it was the time I got to spend with her. Through it all, nary a cross word or outburst passed between us; not many families can say that. We both did what we could to support your grandmother as well as each other. There were no egos, no preconditions and no expectations. Try and have that same kind of relationship with your own brother. It can be a big and sometimes frightening world: know that you will be there for each other in it.

The second event was the recent passing of journalist Tim Russert. As a man in seemingly good health, he was here one minute and gone the next. It's a cliché to say live every moment as if it were your last, but this is one example where that couldn't have been truer. Yes, it's a tough balance between planning for the future and living for today. But it's a tightrope worth walking.

There is so much more to say that neither space nor time will allow. But in truth, your mom and I have been saying these and similar things to you for much of your 18 years. We are humbled that you have heard and absorbed so much, and more importantly, adapted it to your own particular personality. We often look at each other and wonder how we got so lucky for that to have happened.

And so I'll close with the same words I related to your brother when he graduated. Know that as you start the next step on your journey, we will be there wherever you go and whatever you do. We'll be the ones with the heartfelt applause whenever you earn it, the shoulder to lean on whenever you need it, and the love whenever you want it.

Love, Dad.


Dave Wollin will attend Colby College in Maine in the fall. You can send him graduation greetings at His father's column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.