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.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

What’s the best revenge against someone who tries to steal your unemployment benefits? Hint: It involves Taylor Swift #fearlesstaylorsversion

I called Iowa Workforce Development late last week and by happy coincidence Anna the Angel answered the phone.

I called because I wanted to double-check that my benefits were on track to arrive on time.

This was more a triple or quadruple check. The first few times I called with questions on my benefits, I got into a verbal shouting match with a robot answering machine.

I followed that by a useless encounter with an unemployment office employee who seemed most interested in not answering calls from the public.

This series of frustration eventually landed me in the care of Anna, who seemed to give a damn whether or not I got my benefits.

She worked out some kinks in the paperwork and sure enough, benefits arrived. Another bureaucratic wrinkle meant I would wait two weeks to receive a check rather than the customary one.

That inspired me to call the unemployment office. You’ll forgive me if I’m skeptical of the agency’s ability to get things right.

Anna checked and to no one’s surprise, there was a problem. Apparently, somebody tried to file for unemployment benefits under my name.

Identity theft isn’t a new problem. I’ve lost track of the number of letters telling me my data has been compromised or text messages from my credit union telling me somebody tried to use a debit card in my name in a place I’ve never been.

I often joke that if someone is serious about stealing my identity, they’re welcome to it.

They can deal with the obesity, the mental health issues, the aches and pains, near-constant self-doubt, and the bird poop on the hood of my big black car.

Heck, if somebody stole my identity, my credit score would probably go up.

The upshot is that Anna the Angel of the unemployment office is on the case. She alerted the fraud department. The downside: I might not get paid on time. Again.

This adds stress to a stressful time. I’m 45 years old trying to learn a completely different career coming off a spectacular failure in my last job and getting my job cut at the one place I invested more of my heart and talent than anywhere else.

Restrictions on cash flow tighten the grip around the throat like Darth Vader force-choking an Imperial admiral.

But I chose to look at it another way.

Somewhere out there, there’s a fake me. They’re trying, at least for the benefit of a few hundred bucks, to pretend to be Daniel P. Finney.

I don’t know what Fake Finney was doing Sunday.

But OG Finney (that’s “original gangster” for my older readers) finished his linguistics homework. He fixed a few of his toys that needed glued. Finney finally retrieved one of the Millennium Falcon models and a Spider-Man figure that had fallen behind his bookshelves in the bedroom.

OG Finney picked up the new Taylor Swift CD, her remake of “Fearless.” Her voice flowed out of his car speakers like an enchantment as he drove about the metro with his windows down on a postcard-perfect day with periwinkle skies.

OG Finney ate a burger and fries from B-Bop’s in Clive. He sat on a bench by the trail with the sun on his arms and the breeze across his bald head.

He stopped by Snookies for a twist cone in a dish and played a few more songs off that Taylor Swift CD.

He got home and watched TV shows where things blow up and the good guys win.

He feel asleep reading a Conan the Barbarian comic book.

Whatever swindles Fake Finney was up to on Sunday and whatever hassles that may lead to for OG Finney, the real me, it’s all trivial in the end.

Sunday was a good day.

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.

HOT SHEET: How I’m getting ready to start my career in local television news

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, Paragraph Stacker, 24th Street bureau, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM FIRST: I start my new job as an assignment editor for WOI-DT on Monday. The only thing I know about television is how to watch one. I decided to turn to the best possible source to prepare myself for joining broadcast media: movies. Here are five flicks I’m watching to get ready for my new TV job:

  1. “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”
  2. “Network”
  3. “Broadcast News”
  4. “The China Syndrome”
  5. “Good Night and Good Luck”

ITEM TWO: Today is new comics Wednesday. Let’s talk shop:

  1. Darth Vader: The Heart of the Sith Vol. 1— The story picks up in the hours after Vader cuts off Luke Skywalker’s hand and lets the young Jedi know who his daddy is. Vader vows revenge on the Rebellion and the people who made Luke such a wimp, but first he has some questions of his own he wants answered. First, how did Padme survive the force choke fallen Jedi Anakin Skywalker put on her, and who delivered baby Luke into this world? To find the answer, Vader traces Padme’s final days and crosses paths with Padme’s old pals from Naboo. Again, Marvel proves it knows how to handle “Star Wars” characters better than the people who make the movies. This is Vader as we all dreamed of seeing him: pissed off, cutting people in half with lightsabers and just too much of a force to be reckoned with — even for giant sea monsters. The first trade paperback of the latest Vader series is on sale now.
  • Star Wars: Bounty Hunters Vol. 1 — What Vader gives to “Star Wars” comics, Bounty Hunters takes away. That’s not quite fair. The story centers on a comics character resurrected from the original Marvel comics of the 1970s and 80s, which were often mediocre to terrible. There’s Boba Fett, the most overrated character in “Star Wars” lore, and Bossk, a reptilian bounty hunter who makes for a better action figure than character in a story. The story deals with a protection job gone wrong, some mafia clans and other jibber jabber that just doesn’t entice more reading. The art isn’t for me. I’m always hesitant to criticize art because even the worst comic book creators make things more beautiful than I could ever create. Still, this artwork feels like posed shots that belong in pin-up galleries or sold as paintings at conventions rather than pages of a comic. It lacks action and sense of motion. But I know Boba Fett and bounty hunters as a concept sell, so a lot of “Star Wars” fans might want to give this trade paperback a look.
  • Green Lantern Season Two Vol. 1 — Writer Grant Morrison and artist Liam Sharp team for some of the best Green Lantern stories in decades. Morrison is one of modern comics’ geniuses. His stories are trippy, fun and balance badassery with a hint of Silver Age fun. Sharp’s artwork is so tremendous one might be convinced this is why God invented pencils.
  • Batwoman/Catwoman No. 1 — Writer Tom King shaped the love story between Batman and Catwoman like no other creator before him. That story propelled through his entire 85-issue run on “Batman.” This issue begins a special year-long story about Batman and Catwoman set after the events of “City of Bane,” during which Catwoman nursed a broken Batman back to health in order to defeat Bane and an alternate version of his father, Thomas Wayne. I’m looking forward to this comic more than any other on the schedule. I usually wait for trade paperbacks for stories, but I’m buying this in single issues.

ITEM THREE: A recent study found that when people preface a statement with the phrase “with all due respect” the thing that followed was in no way respectful in 100% of cases.

ITEM FOUR: A joke from a Johnny Carson “Tonight Show” from the 1970s: “A new record is out that teaches people how to have better sex. It encourages couples to play the record in the act. There’s already been a tragedy. One couple put the record on at 78 instead of 33. Services are this week.”

ITEM FIVE: This is the best #2020 thing ever and of course it comes from a collaboration between Taylor Swift and Ryan Reynolds:

ITEM SIX: One of the few things I know about English soccer leagues is the concept of relegation. The poorest performing teams are sent down to a lower league and the better performing teams are brought up to play at the highest level. Such a thing would have been a mercy to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who posted 20 consecutive losing seasons from 1993 to 2012. It similarly would be a mercy to Chicago Bears fans to see the Bears sent down to the Big 12 or the Pac-12 for a couple of seasons. Let Ohio State or Alabama have a go at the pros. Their college programs are damn near that good anyway. Anything to ease the suffering of Bears fans who have to watch a team without an offense, a quarterback, a competent coach and general manager play pro football games against bonafide NFL winners such as the Green Bay Packers.

ITEM LAST: I was overwhelmed with the kind notes, messages and well-wishes after the announcement of my new job. I plan to continue to write for this blog. There will be no more politics talk and the profanity will be scaled back to PG-13 levels. As for what I’m going to be doing at WOI, well, I don’t know yet. I do know I won’t be on camera and that’s a blessing to everyone including me. I will be working with our team of reporters, anchors and producers. And I’ll be doing some reporting and writing for the WeAreIowa.com website. Frankly, it’s good to have something to look forward to each day besides more worry. Unemployment is a crushing mishmash of depression and anxiety. You’re depressed because your old shop sent you packing and even though they tell you it’s not personal, it sure as hell feels that way. It’s anxious because the money goes fast and when you start to wonder if you’re going to be living at the YMCA by this time next month, your guts churn. So at the risk of one more political comment, having been through what I’ve been through and knowing millions of Americans are still going through, I hope Congress and the new president figure out a stimulus bill as soon as possible to help everyone who wasn’t as lucky as I was to find a job in the middle of a pandemic.

Daniel P. Finney is getting down to this sick beat.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.