Bonner Day: Celebrating and suffering the graduation season

Bonner Day

The graduation season is here, in the Valley as well as the rest of the country.

Colleges, high schools, junior high schools, even preschools are having graduation exercises.

And increasingly, the pride of the parents is reflected in graduation parties, at which you are expected, but not required to speak.

My first suggestion is that you avail yourself of the opportunity.  You are an invited guest, do your part to contribute to the good feeling of the occasion.

My second suggestion is just as important.  It would be helpful for all concerned, if you took a few moments to write some thoughts down.

Listening to people speaking without thinking is painful to the person honored and agony to the rest of the party.

You have all been witnesses to how not to do it:

“I haven’t prepared remarks, so I will just wing it.  Brendan is my nephew.  We would’ve had good times together if I didn’t live so far away.”

“Your father asked me to say a few words. So here goes”

“I don’t really know what to say, but I know I have to say something.”

It is so much better to take a moment, write some thoughts down and have them available if you are asked to speak.

At a recent graduation party I prepared for a recent gathering to honor a new graduate.  I thought of a few words as an introduction, then planned to sing a few verses that had a philosophic bent, and finally prepared to finish with a few words of advice.

But I didn’t put it all down on paper and that caused the disaster.

I started out okay, along these lines:  “You have had the luxuries in life, those things that all young men are not blessed with.  Good parents, good health, a fine mind and the opportunity to attend a fine college. But I also want you to have the essentials, a philosophy to live by. Without that all your luxuries are wasted.

Then I proceeded with the song.  So far so good.

Then my mind went blank.  I was blocked in the middle of the song, Oh how I wish I could have written it down.

The audience of 25 or so waited patiently.  In their eyes I could see their desire to help me out, but with no way to help.

I just could not remember the line. I could have skipped on, but I had asked a member of the audience to join me in singing the next line to follow. So it was absolutely necessary, I thought, to sing the cue line.

Soon the audience, all members of the extended family, grew impatient, some whispering words of encouragement, others sounding a little irritated. I think I heard one say, “Get on with it.”

Finally, in desperation, I skipped to the next line and continued to the end with as much bravado as I could muster.  Relying on volume as well as rhythm I was rewarded with a round of applause.

I was not fooled.  I knew they were applauding the end of the performance more than anything else.

But the lesson I want to share is that a few minutes spent writing it all down would have been a major comfort to me and the rest of the family as well.

Fortunately, there are no more graduations on my calendar.

My grandson, Will, is graduating Saturday, but he is in the Congo, in Africa, and I won’t be there to share the occasion

If I were, I would tell him to remember his heritage.   “You are an American, and by birth, a Virginia gentleman. If you stay true to those ideals, you won’t go wrong.”

And if the occasion was conducive and the mood just right, I would share the philosophy that abandoned me on the earlier occasion:

“We’re busy going nowhere, isn’t it just a crime.  We’d like to be unhappy, but we never do have the time.”

And I would write it down.

Bonner Day has lived in the valley for the past 14 years.  He confesses to a healthy share of prejudices.