Back in the fall, I was in our basement laundry room (I call it the “dungeon”) when the phone rang. I was surprised that it was Wichita State University President Don Beggs. I was stunned when he explained that he was calling to tell me that he was going to present the President’s Medal to me in December at commencement. I was shocked when he explained that meant I would give the commencement address. It was too much to take in. I sat down on a heaping basket of dirty laundry and tried not to cry. I wondered if he and his wife, Shirley, who is my dear friend, had conjured up a funny joke, but he sounded much too sincere. My second thought was, “Please don’t let him look at my transcript.” Me, a commencement speaker? Oh my.
It was an honor and especially thrilling because it’s the last President’s Medal he will present.
Since December, I’ve had several people suggest that I publish my speech in this column. I’ve been asked for a copy of it by some of the grads and parents. The surprises just keep coming. Anyway, since it’s graduation time for many people in the area, I thought I’d go ahead and print it, with just a few tweaks. After a few remarks to the 6,000 people in Koch Arena, I said:
What a great day for graduates! And if you think it’s a great day for you, think how happy those parents who have been paying tuition are.
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There could be a parent or two in the audience who thought this day would never come. Well, I guess you showed them. Some students are fast; some are very, very thorough.
And for the many non-traditional students, since you won’t have the expense of tuition next semester, go buy yourself a little something for a graduation present. You deserve it.
Now, because I’m old and wise — well, one of those anyway — I’m going to do what old people do (besides, of course, trying to remember things). I’m going to share some dos and don’ts.
• Do get ready to explain to anyone outside the state of Kansas exactly what a Shocker is.
• Don’t tell them Wu is a space alien.
• Do join the alumni association.
• Don’t think if you move away that you can avoid this. Debbie Kennedy and her staff will hunt you down like a dog. If bin Laden had been a Shocker, he would have been found a lot sooner.
• Do practice generosity. Buy whatever a little kid is selling.
• Don’t think for a moment it won’t be you standing on the curb observing your child’s salesmanship skills. Yes, you, too, can have 25 boxes of cookies in your freezer, 17 magazine subscriptions and a dozen boxes of greeting cards, and let’s not forget those trash bags. Oh, I see some of you have a freezer full of thin mints.
• Do look people in the eye while communicating with them. No, I don’t mean on Skype. Use your verbal skills. Please don’t rely on Twitter, Facebook, e-mail or texting for the majority of your communication.
• Don’t forget how important face-to-face conversation is. Oh, and spelling is very important, OMG! And BTW, I am serious.
• Do read. Now that you don’t have three chapters to read by tomorrow for each of four classes, you can read for pleasure.
• Don’t limit your pleasure reading to People magazine. Read good books, read your newspaper, stay current with what is going on in your community, your country and the world.
• Do make friends with people of all ages.
• Don’t make friends with people who age you.
• Do remember friendship is built on trust and a friendship has to be nurtured like any other relationship.
• Don’t take any friendship for granted.
• Do vote.
• Don’t give up hope on our political and judicial systems.
• Do have a positive attitude.
• Don’t think because someone says, “How are you?” that they really want to know. Even when you have a pain, don’t be one.
• Do volunteer.
• Don’t brag about your volunteer activities.
• Do surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you.
• Don’t assume good deeds are done for personal gain.
• Do start fresh each day.
• Don’t be fresh.
• Do maintain a sense of humor.
• Don’t hang around people who don’t appreciate your sense of humor. That doesn’t mean to dump them if they don’t laugh at your jokes.
• Do remember that every morning you have the gift of a brand new day. Making it a good day isn’t always easy, but if you can’t get it on track one day, you know you can start fresh the next day.
• And here are three things I would like for you to ask yourself before you go to sleep every night:
1. Did I help someone today?
2. Did I take a few minutes for myself?
3. Did I set that blankety-blank alarm clock on a.m., not p.m.?
I’ll leave you with one last thought:
Let not the tears of yesterday nor the fears of tomorrow spoil the joys of today.