Guest View: Grads should strive for future, but take time to relax

To moms whose kids have to memorize high school graduation speeches this month: nothing makes a speech more unforgettable than forgetting it for a split-second – in front of 3,000 people. (One of us learned that the hard way.) So if you invite every living relative to “Mom’s pre-ceremony fiesta,” please let your grad slip away to rehearse.

Grads, here’s that unforgettable speech. You can recycle yours someday when you, too, are too lazy to write your column.

(It’s tough to beat actor Chevy Chase’s speech, though. Chevy’s theme was “Avoid fatty foods!”)

The Sweet Mirage

Several years ago, I attended a graduation ceremony at another high school. There were two class speakers.

The first had earned the best grades in the class. He marched to the microphone and exhorted his classmates to spend their lives constantly striving, never resting for a minute in their struggles to achieve. “Never forget,” he urged, “that you should strive, strive, strive!”

When we were all ready to go out and “set the world afire,” the person graduating second in the class gave her speech. She said, “Relax. Take it easy once in a while. Sit back and enjoy life.” (Which gives us some idea why she was only second in the class.)

Though the speakers seemed to contradict each other, each had a valid point. If humankind didn’t struggle to progress, we wouldn’t get anywhere. But if all we did was struggle, there would be no point to the progress. And progress with no point to it is no progress at all. As Havelock Ellis saw it, “It is not the attainment of the goal that matters, it is the things that we are met with by the way.”

A goal may often seem insignificant or unattainable, but its pursuit may still be justified by what we will accomplish along the way. President Kennedy declared landing on the moon to be America’s space program’s goal shortly after its birth. But many benefits from the space program, such as new alloys and better transistors and integrated circuits, were the result not of our reaching the moon but of the technological advances we made while striving to reach it.

And the United Nations was founded to end war. It’s enjoyed less-than-phenomenal success. Some of its most notable achievements, though, are due to its sub-organizations (such as UNICEF and the World Health Organization). They’ve increased governmental cooperation in such areas as education, disease prevention and economic development.

And Ponce de Leon may not have discovered the Fountain of Youth. But he did discover Miami Beach.

These historical examples are paralleled by examples from our own experience. But we tend to fail to fully appreciate our day-to-day existence because of our fixation on the future.

For example, most of us expect the years ahead to be more fulfilling than those we spent in high school. We can all recall similar situations from the past.

When we were 4 years old, we looked forward to kindergarten. Kindergarten was going to be a fantastic experience. Once in kindergarten, though, we learned that only in first grade could there be true realization of the self, revitalization of the spirit, and – most importantly – escape from the taunts of “Kindergarten babies!”

Then, in first grade, we discovered that second grade was really “where it’s at.” And so it continued through the years, as we contented ourselves with growing older and surviving until that point in the future when Nirvana would be achieved.

Karl Marx claimed the church taught the lower classes to accept their fate. It seemed to teach that this life was unimportant, something to be endured until the “afterlife.”

We do focus on our Utopian futures. The result can be passive acceptance of our “present.”

We often trade the present for promises. As children, we were encouraged to save our pennies. The concept seemed logical. If you blew your allowance on ice cream or a ride on the merry-go-round, all you would have left would be – memories. But if you withstood the temptation, you’d still have your allowance money. To paraphrase the diamond advertisement, “A nickel is forever.”

But life isn’t something we can save up. We have to spend life as we go along, or die with a piggy bank full of what W.W. Story called “the glorious dreams that fooled me in my youth – the sweet mirage that lured me on its track.”

We needn’t sacrifice our goals to enjoy achieving them. We should, by all means, set our goals high. We wouldn’t have reached our present level of civilization if our predecessors hadn’t done just that.

But we should not become so obsessed with our visions of the future that we end up squandering our lives – in pursuit of a “sweet mirage.”

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