Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Last Word

Those of you who read this space know of my wife's retirement as the president of our local school board. As her almost final act, she will once again perform one of her favorite duties, shaking the hands of all the seniors at graduation. And while she won't give a speech, here is the one I penned for her if needed.

"Welcome. I can't tell you how happy I am to be able to spend a few minutes with you today. And yes, I will be brief. In fact, I've come to terms with the reality that you're focused less on my words of deep, insightful wisdom, my empathetic musings and my rousing call to arms, and more on an ice cream cake featuring your name written in chocolate sauce.

As you graduate, you probably are looking back and wondering if it was all worth it. After all, why study history or math or the right way to conjugate a verb, when there were really critical things to do, like updating your Instagram feed. Well, there's an old saw that those who don't remember history are condemned to repeat it. And so we spend our time looking at the past. We do it in big historical ways, like studying the Greeks or the Industrial Revolution, as well as in little ways, like trying to figure out which is the best route to sneak into the house after hours. In both cases, the goal is to try and avoid the mistakes that have been made before, be it the Trojan Horse or getting grounded.

Yet while we can study the past, we can't really glimpse the future. We aim for the horizon, knowing only like the bear who went over the mountain to see what he could see, there will be another mountain on the other side. You are all trying to do that this very day, looking over the horizon at what might be coming your way. And while there is most certainly an elevation to be scaled, for the first time perhaps in your entire lives, the shape, height and difficulty of that mountain hasn't been defined, not by your teachers, not by your parents, not even by you.

That is both the horrible and exciting truth that you may have just started to realize. The future, your future, will be what you make it. You have to answer to no one but yourself as to whether you've scaled the heights you've wanted to, whether you've tried as hard as you could, whether you took shortcuts of which you are ashamed or proud. The hardest thing that you will have to do for the rest of your life is to look in the mirror, for it reflects the past, shows you the present and offers you the future. If you can look at that image without averting your eyes and smile, you'll have done all right for yourself, whether you are a gardener or a venture capitalist, a doctor or a teacher, a friend or a parent.

Let me end by telling you why I am so happy to be standing here today. It's because while you are looking for and trying to define the future, I have the glorious privilege of seeing it sitting in front of me. What I, and indeed, what all of us here whom you've invited to witness this event are looking at, is you. We can see the future IN you. That is a privilege few are afforded, and it is indeed thrilling.

It's about the art of the possible. Think of your future as an empty sheet of paper. There is no form or substance to what you see, merely the expectation that something will fill it. So find that which fits your hand the best. It might be a pencil or a shovel, a keyboard or a gavel, a brush or even someone else's hand, and start working on that blank space. We don't know what you will produce, but we can't wait to see it.

Life can be difficult and perplexing, stubborn and confounding. But it can also brilliant and clever, astounding and inspirational. Here's to hoping that yours is more of the latter than the former. Or as the old Irish blessing goes, may the best day of your past be the worst day of your future.

Thank you, and good luck on your journey."


Marc Wollin of Bedford wishes all graduates best of luck whatever their next step. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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