Grads: Remember the parable of the iced tea

To the class of 2023,

Be kind.

That’s the only advice I have.

Everything else is clutter.

I graduated from high school 30 years ago, college 26 years ago, and graduate school last year.

I think I am done graduating from schools, at least formally.

But life surprises you.

For example, I went to the fast-food joint down the road from the school where I teach.

I ordered an iced tea.

A worker brought the drink out to my car.

I saw the tea, but no ice.

“Is your ice machine broken?” I asked.

“Oh,” she said. “Did you want ice in this?”

She wasn’t kidding. I decided not to ask her to take it back.

When someone asks you whether you want ice in your iced tea, back away slowly.

Iced tea is a rare beverage that is both the name and the recipe.




Send it out the door.

I’ve ordered iced tea in a variety of restaurants for most of my life. No one ever asked me if I wanted ice in it before last week.

I’ve been asked about lemon. The answer is always an emphatic “no.”

I like my iced tea to be tea flavored. No lemon. No fruits.

And don’t get me started on sweet tea.

I believe everyone north of the Mason-Dixon line who drinks sweet tea is a Confederate spy.

We fought a war to get away from sweet tea drinkers.

Never forget.

Anyway, life will surprise you.

I never thought I’d asked about whether I wanted ice in my iced tea.

What is possible in my world was forcibly expanded by a mildly unpleasant experience involving tepid tea.

So, there’s some more advice for you: Keep learning.

You never know where life’s great lessons will come.

My latest one came in the drive-thru window of a fast-food joint.

I’m not going to lecture you about keeping an open mind or being a lifelong learner.

You will or you won’t.

Nothing I type here will change your mind.

When I was student teaching in the western suburbs, one of my students was graduating.

He proudly declared the book we were reading for the last unit was the last book he would ever read.

I felt sad hearing that.

Reading and writing gave me everything I ever loved in life.

Then again, Clint Eastwood once ran for mayor of Carmel, California, on the platform that his restaurant should be given a variance that it was denied by the previous administration.

His political ideology was “Everyone leaves everyone else alone.”

I like that.

Who am I to tell that kid he should read? If he hates it, let it ride. It’s his life.

Then I thought of my friend Andrew, a talented graphic artist, father of two. He hates reading.

He’s a terrific dad and husband. He tends to his house. His eldest child likes Hot Wheels and Ghostbusters.

Andrew took his son to Free Comic Book Day earlier this month.

The boy is obsessed with Spider-Man now.

This makes me laugh. Andrew is going to be forced to read.

Granted, they are children’s books and comics, but still, I bet he never enjoyed reading more.

Never be too sure you’re through with anything. There’s another piece of pithy advice for you, graduates.

I thought I was finished with journalism.

Here I am typing columns and sports stories for Marion County Express. It’s awfully fun and helps salve a wound.

Life surprises you.

I kept a journal when I was in high school. The notebooks are in a filing cabinet drawer in my home office.

I can’t stand to read them. I wince at how I sound, how I think, and especially at how I spell.

I would tell you to write a letter to your future self and predict who you will be in 25 years.

Have somebody put it in a safety deposit box.

Open it up in 25 years or so if there are still banks and safety deposit boxes in 25 years.

Maybe you’ll be surprised at your accuracy. I have a friend who married her high school sweetheart, had children, and made her way in the world mostly as she chose.

Then there’s me, who thought he would be married with children, and writing for the New York Times or the Washington Post.

I’m neither married nor a full-time paragraph stacker anymore.

Life surprises you.

Remember the parable of the iced tea.

Oh, and be kind.

Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney writes a column for the Marion County Express.

Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.

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