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Oregon Family Magazine

Ok Class of 2013, Listen Up !!

06/13/2013 ● By Sandy Kauten
A voice on the phone said, “Mr. Epstein, this is Mrs. Wilson,” and my heart skipped a beat. The last time Principal Wilson had called, it had been to tell me that my fourth-grader Wendy had threatened her friend Billy with a pair of scissors.

It turned out that Wendy had not meant to threaten Billy. She had been engaging in dark whimsy, telling Billy that life is full of surprises. “For example,” she’d said, “I could go over to that cabinet and pull out a pair of scissors and come back and stab you with ‘em. I WOULDN’T, but you just never know.” Billy, quite reasonably, had run to the teacher for protection.

That night I lectured Wendy on how scary her idea had been to Billy and told her that when she departs for school in the morning, she must leave her dark whimsy at home.

So, when I heard Mrs. Wilson’s voice, I was afraid there had been another incident, or maybe that the school psychologist had tracked Wendy’s dark whimsy to its source. But Mrs. Wilson laid something even worse at my doorstep: “We’d like you to deliver the keynote address at eighth-grade graduation in June. Children at that age tend to be negative, and we feel that you can offer them something positive. Please say you’ll do it.”

She sounded a little desperate. If my understanding of the local hierarchy is correct, Mrs. Wilson’s offer had been rejected by the mayor, the fire chief and the sewer-plant superintendent before she started calling mere parents.

I’m not a public speaker, but I said yes, figuring I could impart some advice, because I’m so full of it. Yes, I know that eighth-graders appreciate adult advice about as much as manatees appreciate motorboat races. But I can’t resist.

Here’s how I figure it will go:

Parents, teachers and members of the Class of 2013, thank you for your perfunctory applause. You know, I wasn’t always 50 years old, overweight and losing my hair. I used to be young and cute like you eighth-graders. It breaks my heart, when I think about it. But my consolation is wisdom – things I’ve figured out on the way to being this old and unattractive. And this is your lucky night because I’m going to share some of my findings – the ones that will be useful to you in high school. Here goes:

  • Respect authority, or at least pretend to. Most teachers really like kids and they want you to learn. Work with them; they are on your side. A few teachers would rather grind you into the dust. Just do the assignments and stay out of their way. Those bad teachers ARE teaching you – about Life.
  • Stay away from trouble. Also stay away from situations that can turn into trouble and people who attract trouble. If the police find you with a smoking gun beside a body, you will discover that being innocent is only half the job. The other half is staying out of smoking-gun-type situations.
  • Now this may sound cold, but never date anyone who has more problems than you do. Their problems accompany them and become YOUR problems and you have enough already.
  • Don’t be a showoff, a loudmouth or a wiseguy.
  • Don’t lie, don’t complain, and don’t make excuses. When something goes wrong, first blame everyone you can think of: your parents, your teachers, your coaches, your friends, society and, of course, God. Be thorough. Then figure out what YOU did wrong and don’t do it again.
  • Neatness and spelling count.
  • Never underestimate the importance of clean fingernails, good grammar and perfect attendance.
  • If you dye your hair blue, pierce your tongue and tattoo curse words on your forehead, you might be telling people more about yourself than you want them to know. Give yourself a little privacy.
  • Don’t say “like” all the time, it makes you sound as if you don’t know anything for sure.

HEY, KNOCK OFF THAT BOOING! I’m just trying to be helpful and positive! Ouch! Who threw that?! Alright, that does it! It only takes a few troublemakers to ruin things for everyone else. You are all just going to sit here on the stage until someone tells me who threw that tomato. ... In September, up at the high school they’re going to be wondering: “Gee, shouldn’t we have more freshmen than this? Maybe a big batch of them were held back.” ... C’mon, who threw it? I’ve got ALL summer...

Rick can be reached at [email protected].