Become Extraordinary

It’s graduation time and, at the risk of sounding like an old geezer, I ask what has happened to kids these days? Like most people, I tend to know the world in relation to my inner circle. In recent years, I’ve been fortunate enough to know some really outstanding young people who are graduating from high school and college, and this year is no different.

A group of graduates prepares for commencement ceremonies.
A group of graduates prepares for commencement ceremonies.

My cousin graduated from high school last year at the age of 16, moved across the country for college, and ended up spending six months in South America. Part of her study has taken her into the Amazon, and I can’t begin to tell you how much she inspires me. This year, a baby that I took care of in her first year of life graduates, and she is another one to watch out for. When someone says “mathlete” you may get an image of a pale, bookish waif with a penchant for numbers, but my mathlete is a gorgeous pole-vaulter with a curly mane of hair streaked with colors that some women would pay hundreds of dollars for and still not get.

I have other friends whose children graduate this year, and I think back over those who have graduated in the last five and have finished or are about to finish college. I can name some pretty outstanding people, and that gives me hope for the future.

Then there are the graduates that provoked the first sentence of this article. A local paper publishes a graduate supplement for the area high schools, and having nothing better to do one morning last week, I thought I’d see what the graduates I don’t know are planning for their futures.

The first thing I noticed was a change in names. While I know young women named Antonia, Emma, Grace, Madeline and Hayley, I was astounded by the number of girls called Rainy, Autumn, Stormy, Summer and Stormi with an eye, I suppose, like a hurricane. These young women sound more like a turbulent weather report than someone who will one day be the head of a Fortune 500 company or find the cure for Alzheimer’s.

Other girls were named Austree, Carrigan, Ikea, Infinity, Jillyn, Kaela, Maleni, Malorie, Mirinda, Mollea, Sayge and Serenity. Yes, you saw Ikea and Infinity. I’ve heard of people naming their children after the place they were conceived, so Ikea makes me wonder on what aisle, but Infinity requires that I imagine a type of swimming pool or the backseat of a car. I don’t think those other names are even words.

The boys had very few Johns, Davids and Roberts, but there were names like Brayden, Deekota (not Dakota), Gheryn, Gunner, Jaz, Kagan, Kelby, Lathen, Taber and Zarek. Word has it that the yearbook sponsor collapsed from a nervous breakdown and has had to retire early.

With parents like Heather, Tiffany and Brittany (also spelled Britney, Brittanee or Brittneigh), I shouldn’t be surprised by the urge to saddle children with unique names, most of which defy all logical spellings.

Unusual names are given to children because a parent wants the rest of the world to recognize that their child is a far superior product than everyone else’s. They want them to succeed in life and have the confidence to stand out. They are sending a message that their child is special, so take notice.

Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough, Jr. spoke to his school’s Class of 2012, by telling graduates that they were not special. You can view this speech in its entirety here, but the point he made was in his statement, “The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is…Make for yourselves, please, for your sake and for ours, extraordinary lives.” In other words, what you’ve done to this point is no different than millions of other people just like you. However, from this point forward, a great life will only happen if you make it so.

Alongside the senior photos in the newspaper, graduates have provided their extracurricular activities, hobbies and future plans. You wouldn’t be surprised to know that I am delighted to read a young woman’s plans to become an author, and that her hobby is writing. Another girl states that she wants to become a pipeline welder, and I’m glad that we live at a time when that isn’t out of the question for her. A young man who loves bluegrass music wants to travel the country and perform. Another boy says that he wants to carry on his father’s legacy. I’m not exactly sure how to feel about that since a father’s legacy can be anything from being the head of a great family to running a crime syndicate. (Sometimes it’s both!)

I recall writing what I planned to be: a health-care administrator. I didn’t even make it through freshman orientation before I realized that I’d probably jump off the hospital if I had to run one for the rest of my life. Young graduates can’t be held to what they say they want to do. They’ve been around for about 18 years, and no one at that age can conceive of a career that lasts for five decades. Things change. 50 years ago, TV was in black and white. Phones were attached to a wall and worked with a dial. You spoke to one caller at a time. People typed on manual typewriters and men dominated most career fields.

Man walked on the moon. Man covered the story on one of the three networks. Man was president. Man couldn’t imagine social media, much less the Internet and all its possibilities. With those new directions came exciting ways to make a living. It’s impossible to fathom the future with so many constant and rapid changes.

That said, when you get your picture in the paper and you’re asked what you want to do after graduation, start to think like a responsible adult and rethink such responses as “Go with the flow,” “Become a swamper,” and “Make more money than my wife can spend.”

It’s wonderful that a young lady wants to earn a masters degree in musical theatre, but don’t tell us that you “Aim to be an understudy.” Aim to be the star. Don’t set your sights for standing in the wings night after night hoping that Edina Menzel gets laryngitis.

And when the newspaper asks how you’ve been spending your time outside of class, let me offer some Sayge [sic] advice: Please do not embarrass your parents and grandparents, and remember that “doing makeup,” hanging out with friends, family or girlfriends, watching Netflix and going shopping are not hobbies. If these are the only things that you do, you might consider getting an actual hobby. Eating, sleeping and drinking water were all responses that I read under the names of more than three graduates. Keep in mind that all three are requirements for living. Therefore, they cannot be hobbies.

Finally, I don’t believe it’s ever too late to start something or make a change in life. Regardless of your age, if the way you’re spending your time is not making you happy, take this season of commencement to remind yourself that the word “commencement” means “the start of something.” Begin a new chapter in your life and, as David McCullough, Jr. said, “Make for yourselves…extraordinary lives.”

© 2014 by Patrick Brown

9 Replies to “Become Extraordinary”

  1. This was wonderful, Patrick. I hope Ikea and Infinity somehow, someway find these words. For one, they are old enough to vote! 🙀


  2. You caused me to flash back to the Graduation Edition of the Duncan Banner…..


  3. So great, I will forward this to Maddie. She will love you more for it as your words are her words most of the time. I have always taught my girls that “Life begins after high school,” it is one of my many mantras. So, I appreciate you and your words of wisdom. Love you!


  4. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was
    great. I do not know who you are but definitely you are going to a famous blogger
    if you are not already 😉 Cheers!


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