Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt delivered the commencement address at the University of Wisconsin-Madison over the weekend and delivered what I thought to be a brilliant message to 2019 graduates. In a nutshell, just because you have the diploma does not mean life is a bed of roses.
Watt emphasized hard work, perseverance, determination and an eye on the goal as important components for success in life, and while graduates may not have been ready for such a message, it is one they needed.
When I graduated, I remember being mesmerized by the words of Benjamin Franklin, our commencement keynote speaker (just kidding, but my grandchildren think he spoke at my graduation).
I really don’t remember who spoke or what they said, but I do recall a rosy, flowery picture of how what I learned in school would make me a leader, a shining example for classes to come. Classes who would follow in my footsteps to glory.
What a crock.
I pitied anyone who would follow in my footsteps. While we all sat there in our caps and gowns appearing to be ready to take on the world, we really felt like we were about to be launched from an aircraft with no parachute.
I remember thinking, “Why didn’t I pay more attention in algebra class?” Sitting with my class at graduation, in retrospect, I was quite certain I couldn’t even speak algebra. What was it anyway?
The Houston Texans football star mentioned in his commencement speech this past weekend that the pathway to the future may not look like you think it should. How true I think we have all found this to be.
While maybe this isn’t anything new, my fear is that in a world where we shield our children from the hurt of losing by eliminating the score in competitive sports, perhaps we have short-changed them in setting false expectations for the road ahead.
Perhaps our educational institutions should make mandatory a course that prepares students to navigate through the detours, delays and rerouting that the road to success will lead them on.
I remember the horror of finding that the world had not been parked in idle awaiting my arrival. Doors being slammed in the face of someone who has a healthy realization of the possibility is bad enough, let alone someone who has been trained to believe he or she is entitled.
Could it be that this kinder and gentler society has made us a weaker people by setting false expectations of the future for our children?
When words hurt more than sticks and stones, we become vulnerable to all forces from within and without. If we suffer paralysis at the first, second, third or 25th encounter with resistance we leave the door to failure open.
When men and women enter military service, most are handed an eye-opening experience as they begin basic training. The experience is not to tear them down, but to build them up and make them strong. Muscles that are never used become atrophic and waste away.
I remember the heart break and feeling of defeat of being turned away from the first doors I knocked on when I began to pursue a career in broadcasting. By the 25th rejection, it hurt somewhat less, and by then I was determined.
“It’s too hard” is the battle-cry of defeatism. If that excuse was acceptable, the United States would be under dictator rule, we would still be on horseback or foot-bound, medicine wouldn’t have progress beyond the use of leaches and blood-letting, we would never have made it to the moon, skyscrapers would be caves and, well, you get the picture.
It is difficult to set expectations to equal reality, but that doesn’t mean we should do it anyway. If our young people are taught to understand the teachings of defensive end J.J Watt in his commencement address at the University of Wisconsin over the weekend, they will understand that multiple plans may need to me made, alternate routes may need to be charted, and that the bed of roses that lies ahead may have to be sown, cultivated and cared for by them.
Life can be good. Be prepared for it.
Herb Day is a longtime local radio personality and singer-musician. You can email him at [email protected] and follow his work at www.HerbDayVoices.com.