Boy, covering school graduations is rough. 

It’s not that the ceremonies themselves aren’t interesting. They are. You always end up talking to a couple of kids who have overcome great adversity to get where they are: up on the stage with big, square hats and whole lives ahead of them. 

Which, for me, is exactly the problem. 

Every time I cover these things — and only God alone knows how many I’ve had to cover over the years — I end up inspired by all the great stories and all the well-considered plans these kids have. And as I listen to these stories, scribbling in my notebook and nodding my head when appropriate, I can’t help but think back on my own lackluster high school days and how the only plans I had on the big night involved kegs of beer and my part-time girlfriend. 

Seriously, that’s it. If a reporter had run into me on graduation night — I graduated from night school in a class of about six so the reporter’s choices would have been rather limited — and asked about my plans, he would have been disappointed with what I had to offer. 

“Uh, I dunno, man,” I would have mumbled, beneath my Billy Idol haircut. “I’m gonna party hearty with my boys for the next couple days and then we’ll take it from there. I gotta be back at the gas station on Monday, but we’ll be ready to party some more by the weekend. I don’t know about college or anything like that because, hey. Who has the time when there’s beer to be drunk and girls to be chased, am I right? Hey, where are you going? Why aren’t you writing any of this down in your notebook?” 


I was such a putz, although in my defense, I was kind of a Bon Jovi song in the making — got a girl pregnant during my senior year and so had to quit school so I could work full time. I mean, give us some sweet guitar licks and a nice bossa nova drum groove and you’ve got yourself a hard-luck song. Tommy used to work on the docks, sure, but I was a total stud with a windshield squeegee.  

I went back to graduate through the night school program, but really, only as kind of an afterthought. At no point during those weird and hazy years did I ever feel any real concern about the future. What was there to worry about? I had the gig at the Puffin Stop and I was making tens of dollars selling the occasional short story to the magazines, so life was good.  


And while there are tons and tons of teenagers just like me out there, those aren’t the people you tend to talk to when you cover springtime graduations. You talk to teens who are fired up about their futures, who began planning for it years before and who have clear and precise visions of what they want to be. 

These are kids who are wise enough to realize that they only get one swing at life and so they plan to take bold swings, indeed. They are smart enough to use their youthful vim and vigor while it is still there to be used. These kids are conquerors.  

I have a niece who began talking about what she might like to do with her life when she was 11 years old. Over the next 10 years, she took the appropriate steps to see those plans through and right now they are starting to come to fruition. This kid is flourishing because when old people advised her that youth passes quickly, she took it to heart instead of rolling her eyes over a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon like some putz I know from the old days. 


After graduation, I spent eight or nine years just wandering in kind of a shabby, hedonistic daze. Sure, I saw a lot of things and learned a lot of things you won’t find in a textbook anywhere, but boy how I’d like to have those eight or nine years to do over. 

But you don’t get those years back, and a good percentage of the kids who will be graduating this spring seem to get that. When somebody warned them of the ephemeral nature of time, they listened, and that makes then 10 times smarter than I ever was right off the bat. 

“I’m going to this college for four years and then that college for two,” a giddy, fresh-faced graduate will tell me, while the mortarboards are practically still in the air. “Then I’ll get an internship at this company before I start seeking full-time employment on the West Coast — or in the South, depending on what the market is doing at the time.” 

Uh huh, I’ll say, still scribbling in my notebook. Yup, sounds about right. That’s how I’d play it, too, if I wasn’t a putz. 

You meet kids who have already enlisted with one or another branch of the military and with rock-solid plans for what comes after that. You meet others who are enrolled at trade schools with career paths laid out as pretty as you please. Some kids are college-bound. Some are joining the Peace Corps or organizations like it for the hands-on life experience. Still others are jumping straight into the workforce with marriage and families already in the works. 

Nobody ever tells me: “I’m going to a party that’s going to last eight years and when that finally wears me out, I’ll think about what to do next.”  


I’d like to hear that at least once, if just so I could drag out a soapbox to stand on while telling the misguided fool — at great length — the error of his ways. 

In the end, everything worked out sort of OK for me in spite of the less-than-inspiring start. I might be a Bon Jovi song, but I got a really awesome daughter out of the deal and two cool grandkids — kids who will know the value of putting in the work by the time it’s their turn in the batter’s box. 

I didn’t end up in the gutter or in prison, so yeah. Everything worked out. 

These young men and women graduating from various schools right now, though … They aren’t looking merely for things to work out. They’ve got what the songwriters call “starry notions,” and they have well-crafted plans in place to bring those notions into view. 

Will they all get what they’re looking for? Some will, some won’t, but the point is that they’re going out there like warriors looking to conquer their own little corners of the world and it’s hard not to envy that a little. 

Don’t be a putz.

Mark LaFlamme has conquered putzdom in a big way. Email him at

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