Graduation doesn’t live up to the hype, so go find your own good stuff and enjoy that

Dear Class of 2022,

There’s nothing I can type in these paragraphs that will surpass Taylor Swift’s terrific commencement speech for New York University earlier this month.

Look it up on YouTube. That’s how you give a commencement speech.

Kurt Vonnegut gave great commencement speeches. They put a book together of his speeches called, “If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young.”

Buy that book. It’s completely free of empty platitudes. I read it every few years even though I am no longer young.

I should read it this year. I am a part of the Class of 2022. I earned my master’s degree from Drake University earlier this month.

When I graduated from Drake for the first time, in 1997, Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich wrote a column called “Advice, like, probably just wasted on the young.”

That sounds cynical, as journalists often do, but it was a lovely column that began with an excellent piece of advice: “Wear sunscreen.”

The column became one of the first viral pieces of writing in the early days of the internet.

And like viral things on the internet, it was often misattributed.

One line, “Do something every day that scares you,” was incorrectly credited to Eleanor Roosevelt.

The whole thing was attributed to Vonnegut.

Filmmaker Baz Luhrmann turned the column into a hit single. He read it word-for-word and properly attributed it to Schmich, who got royalties.

The song streams online and the column can be found out there, too.

This is the long way of me saying I don’t have any better advice than these fine people when it comes to graduation.

I remember a few things about graduation from being both a student and a teacher this year.

For example, I remembered senioritis. I forgot how done with it one is by the time they get to the last lap of high school or college.

I never expected to have senioritis three times in my life, but even the luster of graduate school — where one might expect to find the most studious minds — fades near the finish line.

Each milestone, no matter how minor, seems like a Sisyphean task. It just feels like you’re never going to get to the end.

And then you do.

There’s supposed to be this great release.

It’s more like a great relief.

Senior years are stressful.

Everything is “the last” of something: last homecoming, last game, last prom, last finals tests, and so on.

The process wears on students, especially in high school.

Imagine all the hype for the Super Bowl, but about once every two weeks for something at school.

Maybe it goes well.

Maybe it’s a bomb.

Or maybe it’s just “meh.”

Hype seldom helps.

The challenge should be to take things as they come, and enjoy life as a journey and not a destination.

Pause occasionally, as our friend Mr. Vonnegut suggested, and ask, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

We aren’t set up this way.

Our culture values milestones and celebrations.

Small moments, the ones that we hold dear for the rest of our life, get washed out in the big bombast of pomp and circumstance.

Graduation is important. You successfully completed a largely preplanned series of steps toward a goal.

The market values that.

Life values that.

You’ve demonstrated you can learn.

I worry that we haven’t done much that demonstrates we can live.

I recall a fishing trip with Dad 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines printer who raised me after my parents died.

I was 15. We were out on his canoe. I fidgeted. I would rather be back at the air-conditioned trailer reading comic books.

Had I been a modern teenager, I would have scrolled through my phone.

Dad 2.0 recognized my disquiet. Now, I don’t remember the exact wording, but it went something like this.

“You know, you’re lucky,” he said. “The world is a noisy place and getting noisier every day. But right now, all there is nature.”

“You know what the sun feels like on your skin, the still of the water in this lake.”

“You know how it feels for the sun to come up in the morning and how it feels when the day changes to night.”

“Most people let those things pass them by, but that’s the good stuff.”

So, if I have any advice at all, Class of 2022, it’s this: Find some quiet and enjoy the good stuff.

A former journalist and future teacher Daniel P. Finney writes a column for the Marion County Express.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
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Will Drake Jethro’s ever reopen? Its biggest fan’s heart says ‘yes,’ but all visible signs point to ‘no’

The black-and-white Instagram post shows chairs turn up on tables and neon lights look hot white in the otherwise darkened bar.

The caption reads: “Closing time at #Jethro’s 1.0, the original and my favorite. They say they’ll be back by March after a remodel. I miss it already. Until Jethro’s 2.0.”

I posted the picture on Dec. 9, 2021.

March came and with it the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Jethro’s remained dark.

The Drake Relays came at the end of April.

The parking lot was filled with cars, but the doors to my favorite restaurant and watering hole remained locked.

The state track meet ran this weekend. Again, the parking lot was filled. Again, Jethro’s remained closed.

Student teaching kept me in the northwest corner of the metro since January, but I still live in the Drake University neighborhood, as I have for all but two of the 18 years since I moved back to the city from St. Louis.

Jethro’s BBQ opened in 2008 and was an instant treasure to the neighborhood.

It brought a bright spot to the then-dismal Forest Avenue side of Drake’s campus.

With all the development on University Avenue around campus, it’s hard to remember that a dozen years ago, Mars Café, China Place, and Jimmy John’s were the pillars of off-campus life.

That’s not a knock on any of those establishments. I’ve eaten many roast beef sandwiches from Jimmy John’s and gotten takeout from China Place.

I’ve sat for our sipping a cup of coffee at Mars and trying to look important and writerly hunched over my laptop.

But Jethro’s was my place. I got to know the staff so well I knew their schedules.

When I was a columnist for the local newspaper, I picked up a lot of story ideas at Jethro’s just listening to what people talked about at the bar.

I don’t drink much, but I gulped down iced tea over boneless wings, burgers, brisket, ham, jalapeno cream corn, and macaroni and cheese.

I got to know my fellow customers, first by their faces and then by names.

I often closed the restaurant, staying late to talk to my favorite bartenders or managers.

I became friends with Bruce Gerleman, Jethro’s owner.

Jethro’s became a franchise. The original at Drake spawned one in Johnston, Ankeny, Altoona, West Des Moines, Waukee, Ames, and a southside store in the old Orlando’s Pizza building.

It irked Bruce when I called that one Jethlandos.

I ran into Bruce some months back, around the holidays I think, out at the Waukee restaurant. We chatted.

I asked him about the Drake store. He said big things were coming.

Bruce always says that. He’s not lying. He’s just positive that way. He’s a real estate man and restaurant mogul.

In his mind, big things are always coming.

This doesn’t seem true for the Drake Jethro’s.

I don’t know if Drake Jethro’s will ever reopen.

Bruce said it would.

I don’t share his rosy assessment.

To be fair, I haven’t peeked in the windows. I don’t know if renovations are underway.

The truth is I’m afraid to look because I worry the answer is no.

They’ve done a good job keeping the lot clean. The bit of grass by the restaurant is mowed. Weeds aren’t poking up through the cracks in the lot.

But it’s been so long.

People’s habits change so quickly.

David Halberstam, one of America’s greatest journalists, wrote a book about the 1949 American League pennant race.

He described what it was like for a rookie to take the place of an established star.

The first year, they say the new kid isn’t as good as the old star.

The second year, they say the new kid is all right, but he’s not the old star.

In the third year, they say “What old star?”

Twenty-first-century life moves faster than baseball in 1949.

I fear the Drake Jethro’s has faded from people’s memory.

There are new restaurants along University Avenue. The old guitar show is now a burger joint. There’s a variety of diverse new cuisines across from Old Main.

Mars, China Place, and Jimmy John’s are still open.

Forest has gotten more crowded. Casey’s opened a convenience store without gas across the street from Jethro’s.

There’s a Mexican restaurant on the site of a former Taco Bell-KFC where the lot is filled with cars only — unlike Drake Jethro’s — people can go inside and eat a meal.

Maybe it’s ridiculous to put up this fuss for the restaurant.

There are plenty of Jethro’s in town. And I occasionally get my fix at them.

But it’s not the same. My people have all scattered to different locations. I miss them as much as the food.

The regulars are regulars somewhere else.

I know this is silly, but one night I got takeout from the Jethro’s in West Des Moines. I drove to the Drake Jethro’s lot.

I turned off the car, put on the radio, and rolled down the windows.

I ate and thought about the old days. I could see all the TVs were gone.

The Christmas wreaths were still on the roof and the Christmas lights lit up at dusk.

The neon signs still glowed. A few had burned out. I saw the Ruthie beer sign that always begged Bruce to give me one. I’m a fan of local pop culture and things that light up.

I finished my food. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this felt like visiting a grave.

I drove away before a cop came by and asked what I was doing loitering in the parking lot of a closed restaurant.

If it was up to me, Drake Jethro’s would return.

But it isn’t.

All I can hope is that Drake Jethro’s was.

And it might be again.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
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Bumper stickers: Irritating free speech or secret coded messages to members of lost Gen X tribe

Bumper stickers covered the rear end of the smallish SUV in front of me.

The owner of the car, or one of their kids, really wanted me to know some things about them.

They wanted me to know that people from all religions could get along with the sticker that read “Coexist” using a variety of religious iconography.

They wanted me to know who they voted for in the last two elections.

They wanted me to know where they went to college.

They also wanted me to know someone they loved had died, including what year they were born and what year they died, and that they had dedicated their rear window to the memory of this person.

I knew more about this person than I really wanted to, especially for someone who was just in front of me in traffic.

I believe in unfettered free speech, even when it’s annoying or inconvenient.

I could do without the bumper stickers, but that space belonged to the car’s owner.

I used to own a car in which I placed one sticker inside the car on the passenger side above the glove box.

It read “War is over (If you want it),” a quote from a John Lennon song I loved.

The sticker stayed with the car when I traded it on my current wheels. I imagine someone peeled it off with a razor blade.

I typically don’t put identifying things on my vehicles.

In my old job as a newspaper reporter, I didn’t want to call attention to my car.

There were a lot of people who might take their frustrations out on my vehicle if they couldn’t find me.

I didn’t even have a Drake University license plate holder; there’s no place I’m prouder to be associated with than Drake.

I’m not a newspaper reporter anymore, and, to modify a line from Mark Twain, I shall try to do right and be good so God will not make one again.

So, I allow myself one bumper sticker.

It reads “WKRP 1530 AM, Cincinnati’s No. 1 Rock Station.”

This is a secret code. Only people from my tribe will understand it. My tribe is the Lost People of Gen X. We had a moment about 30 years ago. Now people just complain about Millennials, Gen Z, and other made-up things to divide us against one another.

I don’t really have a tribe. I just have a small group of people with the same shared cultural experience.

I just finished student teaching. I referenced “WKRP.” Neither the youngsters nor the teachers I worked for knew what it meant.

That’s fine.

It’s not for them.

The sticker is for people who remember when there were three channels plus PBS.

The sticker is for people who worried that if they missed an episode of their favorite show, they might never see it again.

The sticker is for people who spend a summer wondering who shot J.R., sobbed when Hawkeye took the last chopper out of the 4077th and saw B.J.’s “Goodbye” written in rocks on the ground, and stayed up way past bedtime to watch David Letterman smash things — including a Mr. T doll — in an 800-pound drill press.

I’ve had the sticker on my bumper for some years now.

People acknowledged exactly twice.

Once, I parked outside a UPS store. On the way out, a lady stopped me and asked if it was my car.

Who wants to know? I asked.

She thought the “WKRP” bumper sticker was hilarious.

She’s right. It is.

The second came the other night when I was sitting at the ice cream shop near my apartment.

The show owner leaned on my window and asked me about the sticker.

The ice cream shop used to sell Maytag appliances. The shop owner got to know Gordon Jump, who played the bored Maytag repairman in commercials.

The gag was Maytag machines, made in Newton, were so reliable they never broke down and the dullest job in the world was Maytag repairman.

Maytag ran that campaign for decades, until Whirlpool bought them out, and did away with the Maytag brand — and scores of jobs in Newton.

Jump also played Mr. Carlson on “WKRP in Cincinnati,” the show which my bumper sticker references.

The ice cream shop owner reported Gordon was a gentleman, the type of guy you could invite to church with you.

The previous actor, though, had a foul mouth and you had to be careful with him, the ice cream shop man said.

I had a pleasant talk with the ice cream shop owner. We both agreed that the Thanksgiving episode of “WKRP” was one of the funniest things we ever saw on TV.

The ice cream shop guy gets it.

He’s part of the tribe.

If you don’t get it, that’s OK. It wasn’t for you.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for the Marion County Express.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.