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.


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HOT SHEET: Big Ten to play football in the pandemic and, you know what, who really gives a damn anymore?

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Neighborhood Station, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM ONE: The Big Ten Conference reversed itself Wednesday and decided to play football this fall after previously punting the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first decision was made based on public health policy. The second decision was made based on money. The Hot Sheet, honestly, just doesn’t give a damn. Play football. Don’t play football. Whatever. The players want to play. Those who don’t can opt out. The players’ parents marched in Big Ten states across the land in favor of their sons’ playing football. They’re not having fans in the stands, which seems to be the biggest risk. Iowa and Iowa State athletic departments are going broke without football money. Iowa cut programs and jobs and instituted pay cuts and furloughs. Iowa State faces a $30-million shortfall. America is a bottom-line country and football is a big part of the bottom line at some of America’s most prestigious institutions … and whatever the University of Nebraska is. Society has bigger mackerels to microwave than whether young, healthy men play football in the pandemic. So, by all means, play ball you brave and bold young men. Wash your hands after every play and try to keep the spit out of your eye.

ITEM TWO: Black Lives Matter activists wish the public held social justice in as high regard as football. If institutional racism garnered the same attention as instant reply, we might actually achieve equity in America.

ITEM THREE: If you live in Polk, Dallas, Black Hawk or Linn counties, you can now belly up to the bar until a 2 a.m. closing time again. Gov. Kim Reynolds lifted restrictions that bars stop serving by 10 p.m. She kept the restrictions in COVID-19-slathered Story and Johnson counties, home to the Iowa State University and the University of Iowa respectively. The typist suggests the governor lift the ban in Story and Johnson counties, too. If the college kids are packing the bars too tightly, enforce the order with fines on the bars. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker believes bartenders, servers and others who make their living at bars and taverns deserve to survive this hellish period. Besides, the sporadic closure of bars felt like “make it up as you go” policy that didn’t stand up to scrutiny. Does COVID-19 magically awaken at 10:01 p.m. and become more infectious?

ITEM FOUR: Unavailable due to COVID-19 pandemic.

ITEM FIVE: Congress remains incapable of even a granule of compromise and thus remains deadlocked in eternal brinksmanship on the matter of a second stimulus. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, promises to get a deal in place before they break for the November election. Forgive the typist his skepticism. Election years are godawful affairs that pander to the worst common denominator. No politician up for election is appealing to the best and brightest of our fractured culture. But know this: Hot Sheet will monitor the action or inaction of Iowa representatives on the matter of unemployment and second stimulus and vote accordingly, regardless of party affiliation.

ITEM LAST: Wednesday brings new comics to the shelves at the local pop culture emporiums. Hot Sheet offers these recommendations to followers of funny books:

  • Batman: Curse of the White Knight, hardcover, DC Comics, $30. In a world where the Joker (Jack Napier) is sane and Batman is viewed as a public menace, what kind of dirt will smilin’ Jack dig up on the Wayne family history?
  • Marvel’s Spider-Man: The Black Cat Strikes, trade paperback, Marvel Comics, $16. The typist enjoys the Gamerverse comics even though he isn’t a gamer. He would prefer a regular ongoing to flesh out the characters than these shorter offerings. Still, it’s better than trying to crack the code on the ongoing mainstream titles, which are usually terrible.
  • X-Men/Fantastic Four: 4X, trade paperback, Marvel Comics, $16. The X-Men have created a mutant paradise. Franklin Richards, son of Reed and Sue Richards of the Fantastic Four, is one of the most powerful mutants in the world. The mutants want Franklin to join them in paradise. There may be some disagreements.
  • Slaughterhouse-Five or the Children’s Crusade: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, hardcover, Arcane, $25. The Hot Sheet adores the late Kurt Vonnegut’s prose, but has never been able to make sense of his most highly regarded novel. The early pages of the graphic novel adaptation prove promising that the typist will finally uptake and understand at least some form of this literary classic.

Let’s close the book on this one. Donate if you can. It helps your poor, unemployed grad student typist more than you can know.

Be kind and behave.

Dismissed.

What, did you think Daniel P. Finney was going to take a different photo every time he posted a Hot Sheet? He’s got a lot going on you know.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

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