Monday, June 3, 2013

One Piece of Advice for Graduates

"I used to be young and cocky like these kids. Now I'm old and cocky." -Me, to My Director, as a group of graduates stood at the front of church one Sunday for a special blessing.

I have some words of wisdom to impart to the class of 2013. Because despite my receding hair line and expanding home equity line, it wasn't too long ago that I graduated from high school. Alright, so it was 1993. Two years before most of this year's graduates were even born. You happy now? I'm old. There. I said it. And I drive a minivan. Can we move on to the advice?

There is a line I write in every high-school graduation card that My Director hands me with the assignment of "be inspiring." Here it is: "Don't do anything you can't tell your mom."

Think about it. We can basically tell our dads anything, right? At least guys can. They're not always going to be happy. In fact, I once had to return to my dad's place of business while holding a piece of his car's molding in my hand, after begging him to use his brand new Lincoln Town Car to make a deposit at the bank drive-thru. (It was in the same shopping center as my dad's store. It's not like I was taking it cross-country, right?) Fast forward to the teller calmly pointing behind me and saying, "There's a piece of your car on the ground back there."

First of all: yes, ATMs existed, but there was a time where you couldn't make a deposit at one. Second, I had misjudged the angle at the drive-thru and this was a tough vehicle for a 16 year-old with just his learner's permit to navigate. (I use "navigate" because that car was more like a submarine.)

He was seething. But he didn't say anything. Not a word. We went about our business and waited on customers until closing time... a torturous 8pm that night. We got into the car and, still mum, my dad steered in the opposite direction of the exit. Now I'm thinking he's going to take me behind the building, beat me unconscious, and throw me in a dumpster.

But no. He turned flawlessly into the same drive-thru where I had smashed up his precious car. He did it using just one hand while holding a lit cigarette with the other. Then he said, "This is all physics and geometry. You get straight A's in physics and geometry!" Actually, there was that B+ during the second marking period sophomore year but I wasn't about to argue semantics with him.

You see what he did there? He turned my royal screw up into a compliment. A very backhanded one, but a compliment nonetheless. I then realized that I could probably tell my dad anything and he'd understand. He'd be pissed, but he'd understand. And we were beyond the beating stage. My dad was no longer the wild belt-wielding disciplinarian of my childhood. (Don't judge - it was a different time.)

But moms? Moms are different. Sure, they're loving. They protect us and defend us. But they take our screw-ups, even our contrary decisions, personally. Like they did something wrong.

One night in a fit of drunken testosterone-fueled rage and stupidity in college, me and a handful of others flipped over the car of someone who was supposed to be our friend. By hand. It is probably the worst thing I have ever done in my life, made worse by the fact that the kid who owned the car died of cancer a few years after graduation. Despite the apologies, remorse, and forgiveness, I still fell horrible that I did it. I still have no idea how or why. Even though I know my mom would defend me even if she's disappointment in me or my actions, it's something I could never tell her. (She doesn't read the blog unless I physically show her myself. Hard to believe, I know.)

Sure you may tell your mom or dad things that I wouldn't, and vice versa. We all have different relationships with each of our parents. Some of the wacky stuff I did when I was pledging my fraternity? I told both of them. Because I thought it was funny and I was strangely proud of myself and wanted them to see that.

This is why you need to run every decision you make in college and beyond through the "tell your mom" test. Not that you would tell your mom. Only that if you wanted to or had to, you could.

So cut the cord, class of 2013. You're out in the world now and on your own. And you're armed with this advice: Be smart. Make good decisions. And don't do anything you can't tell your mom.

As the graduates enjoy their last summer before college, I ponder the question, "Is College Worth It?" You can read my answer HERE.


  1. As a mom, I say this is EXCELLENT advice that I hope my girls will remember when they are in college! :-)

  2. Excellent piece of writing. I laughed, I cried, I remembered and... you made me think.

  3. Great advice. I know that I was definitely cautious of the things I did when I was in college for fear of doing something my mother wouldn't approve of. I must admit that I'm glad I kept her in my mind when faced with certain tempting situations because it kept me from going too far, but still allowed me the chance to enjoy my college years and new found freedom.


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