An unsolicited delivery of solicited advice for the next generation

The Stone Blog -- by Greg Koch

No secret that school gets back in session for most of the country about now. No matter if you are a student yourself, or have kids going to school, you could not have possibly missed annual barrage of Back to School ads, promos, sales, and such. You know, the annual tradition that begins barking to us in the dog days of August as an unwelcome reminder that in a few preciously short more weeks summer will be drawing to a close. August also, oddly, seems to spawn forth the release of seasonal (?) pumpkin beers, which at this point have already been on the shelves for several weeks. But the process of getting them there started much, much earlier.

With an average brewing time presumably in the 2-3 week range, after which they are then stockpiled and sent to wholesalers around the country to eventually hit retailers’ shelves by—in some seasonally-challenged instances—early- to mid- August. That means that while you were only a month or so into your summer tan and more concerned with your beer-geek friends critiquing you for pouring your local brewery’s summer wheat into a freezer-kept mug (after all, it’s so damn hot today right? Well, I actually agree with them…), your favorite pumpkin ale brewer was taking delivery of massive loads of pumpkin and working on their posters reading “Get Yours Today!!” (complete with fallen leaves, dried cornstalks and other autumnal imagery that Mother Nature will be catching up with three months later).

It’s the way of the world. Hell, I remember one summer many many years ago in Los Angeles I was dating a girl that was a personal assistant to Neil Diamond, and I recall her bemoaning that she was growing sick of hearing the Christmas songs he was working on recording for his upcoming holiday release. (Never mind that Neil is Jewish; I thought the end result was a great effort.) And y’know, I never have really forgiven myself for not taking at least enough advantage of that previous relationship to swing by the offices for a pic and an autograph.

Anywho. While you were diving into the pool / lake / river / ocean / sprinklers / hydrant in the middle of the summer, your fall sweaters are receiving their final stitching in China and Bangladesh. Or thereabouts.

But I digress. We were talking about Back to School, which, as I haven’t managed to get to yet but will now, reminded me of my relatively recent commencement speech I gave to the 2012 graduating class at Cuyamaca College just a few short months ago. Why would anyone ask me to give a Commencement speech one might reasonably ask? Well, the previous spring I’d been invited to give an environmental keynote to a Green Business Symposium that was being held on the campus, and I guess they liked my message. And delivery. I’d hoped they did, but I admittedly get a little bombastic at times, especially if it’s a topic that I care about, and I was pretty certain that I was either going to eventually get invited to give another talk perhaps, or politely asked never to set foot on campus again. Fortunately it was the former, but I hadn’t expected to get elevated to Commencement-delivery status. I was honored. And gave an enthusiastic Yes!

But what would I say to a group of students about to head out into the quote-unquote “real world”? As I contemplated my own graduation some 25 years previous (not that I can even recall who gave my university’s commencement or any of the words of wisdom that they gave unfortunately), I tried to think about what I wish I’d been told when I was handed my degree, and the pen just couldn’t stop flowing. The proverbial pen, that is. I actually used my laptop, as I am now.

Anyway, I think I did OK, if I may say so myself. And I really enjoyed getting a chance to share my thoughts and perspectives with the young and not-so-young minds (Cuyamaca is quite delightfully diverse, with graduating students from the 2012 class ranging from a brilliant 18 year old, and an equally-inspiriational-but-in-a-different-way octogenarian gearing up to take their next step. Since then, I’ve seen some nice feedback from a snippet of my speech that was posted by the college, and I thought, well heck! Why not share my thoughts with the world? Or at least the thin slice of the world that’s represented by you, my dear readers.

Yes, some people might disagree or scrunch their noses at some of my suggestions, but that’s alright as it’s quite impossible to say anything that’s worth saying at all without at least a modest percentage of scrunched noses… so if you feel inclined, please do scrunch away. While I may not agree with the scrunching of your nose, I will defend to the death your right to scrunch it. Or something. No matter. I wrote it for those who, like me, are rarely satisfied with the status quo… those who are always looking for ways to innovate, improvise, and improve along the way. If you’re of that cloth, feel free to read on. And if you’re not, you may benefit from reading it most.

So, without further delay, mention of sweaters, Christmas albums from Jewish singers, August onslaughts of pumpkin beers, or other asides, here is the text of my 2012 Cuyamaca College Commencement Speech:

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