Graduation Speeches Are So Long (But Maybe It’s a Good Thing)

Under all speech that is good for anything, there is a silence that is better….  –Thomas Carlyle

Let me start by saying that I have mad respect for public speakers.  It takes a great deal of time, thought, composure, and courage to share your ideas and perspectives with audiences both large and small.  It is no easy feat to step up and out into this arena, which is probably why public speaking is high on the list of our “greatest fears.”  It’s one of those occurrences where we are typically happier on the receiving end and offer pity to the “poor soul” up front with a microphone.  Often times though, it’s equally uncomfortable for both parties…and yet this is exactly where many of us will find ourselves this graduation season.

The whole idea causes my mind to take a stroll down memory lane.  First, as a sixth grader giving a pseudo-valedictorian speech to my classmates as we prepared to advance to junior high.  I can remember pouring my thoughts onto a few sheets of wide-rule notebook paper…the usual platitudes intermixed with memories of sixth grade antics.  I can recall wearing my hair up (an attempt to look more sophisticated, I’m sure,) donning a flowery dress and trying very hard to speak slowly and clearly.  My palms were sweaty and I hardly recognized my own voice over the loud-speaker.  The event venue, a school gymnasium, seemed extra cavernous and despite the dozens of parents and family members in the audience…there were moments where I felt like I was all alone.  Time passed so slowly…each second its own eternity.  The whole speech couldn’t have been more than seven or eight minutes and while it concluded with applause, I always wondered if maybe they were just happy that it was done?  I know I was.

Twenty plus years later, I can still see the faces of those who spoke at my high school graduation ceremony, but what they said is a complete blur.  Classmates, community leaders, administrators…their mouths were moving, but I have no idea what they spoke of that day.  What I can clearly remember are my sunglasses:  mirrored wannabe wayfarers.  We wore our graduation caps toward the back of our heads to accommodate our extra-large mall bangs and adding sunglasses (and not disturbing the bobby pins) was not easy.  It was an extraordinary, bright, sunshiny day (I remember that)…and I NEEDED those sunglasses.  Gathering in a long line, I remember looking at the faces all around me and realizing I didn’t know everyone’s names (a sad fact that weighs on my heart today.)  Obviously, it was loud as we paraded onto the football field with music and cheering family and friends in the background, but as soon as the ceremony began I was lost in my own thoughts.  Deliberately taking in the moment, I was convinced that I would never experience anything like this again.  I looked for my family in the stands.  I smiled at my best friends.  I scoped out a cute boy.  I looked at the sky…a lot.  This day could never be duplicated and in some ways both the world and time stood still.  There was a charge in the atmosphere (one that would eventually lead to a thunderstorm and tornado warning that night.)  And while the message was lost on me, I silently prayed that the valedictorian would just keep talking.  That didn’t happen.  And in a blink of an eye, I found myself preparing for yet another graduation.

There’s a tradition at the University of Kansas…maybe it’s more lore than tradition…that advises students not to walk through the Campanile until graduation day.  Those who choose not to heed this advice, “risk” not graduating at all.  (In my mind, I equate it with dropping the “spirit stick,” like in the movie Bring It On.) If you know me, you know I wouldn’t dream of breaking tradition.  While the landmark is one of my favorite places on the campus, I vowed to not pass through it until that special day.  So, when it arrived, I was ecstatic.  The opportunity to walk through its doors was symbolic in countless ways…a memory that I truly treasure.  (I secretly relive the moment every time we visit the campus.)

Me and Kimberly at Graduation 1997The forecast called for yet another extraordinary, bright and sunshiny graduation day.  (Newsflash:  It’s also very humid in Lawrence, Kansas.)  Thinking ahead, I decided to wear a red tank top and a pair of cut off jean shorts under my graduation gown.  Not your typical graduation attire…oh well.  I had a paper fish on the top of my cap (so that my grandmother could pick me out of the “sea of students” making their way down the hill.)  I wore comfortable brown sandals as we walked in a procession according to major.  (If I close my eyes, I’m practically there all over.)  As you can imagine, a large university has an especially long ceremony.  There were many, many speakers that day.  We took our seats under the hot sun and fanned ourselves with the graduation handout.  I remember thinking (again) that I would never experience anything like this.  I looked for my family in the stands (futile with this many people around.)  I smiled at my friends and remembered that the cute boy in my life at the time was sitting in the audience.  And, of course, I couldn’t resist looking up at the sky.

campanileEverything moved in slow motion.  The audience’s applause were my only signal that one speaker had finished and/or another speaker was being introduced.  They just kept going…probably offering up similar platitudes to the speech I gave way back in sixth grade.  “Reach for the stars, believe in yourself, this isn’t the end…it’s only the beginning,” at least that’s what I imagine they said.  Honestly, though, I have no idea.  Another motivational speech in one ear and out the other.  But what I do know for sure is that the sky was the best shade of blue that day.  The breeze was satisfying in a way that you can only appreciate when you’re wearing the color black in the heat.  Joy and relief abounded in every direction.  And while most of my classmates could hardly sit still, I remember thinking that I wanted to stay there forever.  I regret that I didn’t take more pictures back then…although I am grateful that we didn’t have the distraction of smartphones.  And just like that, it was over.  The speeches stopped and real life began again…a new chapter.  I threw my cap (paper fish and all) high into the afternoon sky and never bothered to retrieve it.  I congratulated the eight-year old girl inside of me for accomplishing her goal of graduating college and securing her “dream” job.  And just like in the movies, I had a hard time leaving that day.  There were several glances back over my shoulder.  Last looks.

Fast forward all these years later and I now find myself attending these same type of events.  I see students waiting (some anxiously, others joyfully,) parents reacting emotionally, spectators sitting impatiently, and speakers searching for new and interesting ways to connect with the audience…to say something worthwhile and meaningful.  Maybe even something unforgettable.  Having done some public speaking in my adult life, I feel a little guilty when someone approaches the podium.  Guilty that I didn’t pay attention back then…knowing all too well how much work actually goes into preparing such a speech.  Yet today I finally realize that maybe the graduation messages of my yesterdays were not actually lost on me.  Perhaps, delivered in that moment was the exact message that I needed to hear after all.  When the speaker took his/her place at the podium I was invited to sit, to pause, to reflect and to savor.  It was an opportunity to take a deep breath and fully absorb the moment…each participant processing the occasion in their own unique way. Graduation and commencement, (often used interchangeably) in truth speak to two different ideas…one an ending and the other a beginning.  And I can’t think of a better way to mark the importance of that moment than by fully taking in the present.

Congratulations, graduates.

Listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom.  Job 33:33

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What I Learned During the First Weekend of March Madness

basketball photo

My first trip to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2013. Kansas vs. North Carolina.

KEEP CALM, IT’S MARCH MADNESS.  –unknown

They call it March Madness for a reason. Unpredictable and erratic…causing ordinary and sane individuals to suddenly scribble out brackets, clear their schedules and spend hours plugged into an event that spans several weekends. Crazy, right? In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I am a Kansas Jayhawk fan–born and raised in Kansas. A KU alum, I have bought, paid for and wear the t-shirt. The 2014 NCAA tournament marks the 25th consecutive season that the Jayhawks have been a part of the madness. So…my madness has been going on a long, long time.

Every year I go into the tournament looking forward to the fun, the excitement, and often times the anguish of college basketball. I’m consistently impressed by the athletic abilities of these amazing young men. Time after time I find myself discovering new teams to root for and more reasons to vilify teams that aren’t on my top ten list. Each year I anticipate the ups and downs and without fail the tournament delivers. You’d think at some point the whole thing would become tiresome and pointless, but I haven’t crossed that line yet. I guess what I’m trying to say is that after all these years I’m still uncovering the lessons deep within the madness. For example, just the other day I learned something new about myself–I yell louder at the TV when watching basketball alone compared to when I watch with others.  Who knew?  And with that spirit of self-awareness, I offer these “noticings” after this first weekend of tourney play:

1. Life is not fair. Okay, we all know that, but sometimes it really hits you over the head.  Like with Harvard and Stanford.  Really? Not only do you have to be a “brainiac” to go there, chances are you’re well on your way to a successful and high paying career (and not necessarily in the NBA.) That’s a score. To top it off the guys on these basketball teams were both good-looking AND athletically gifted. What line were those dudes standing in and how can the rest of us get an invite. Yes, some people have it ALL and then some!

2. “Lebroning” has totally reached the college crowd. It occurs to me that in addition to team practice and free throw repetition, some coaches must be offering some type of drama course. Some of these players produce very convincing facial expressions and practically injure themselves throwing their bodies around while trying to win over a referee. I love how they act like an innocent bystander…even pointing out elbows and hands in order to avoid getting a foul call. Kudos, fellas. The Academy will be calling.

3. Yelling during free throws. Good gravy…I pray that those are college aged fans or maybe members of a team’s respective pep band. Otherwise, let’s grow up a little. Grown men and women (yes, ladies, I HEAR you) have no business screaming or booing a kid at the free throw line.

4. Speaking of pep bands…what is up with the face paint? For heaven’s sake. This year’s face painting has been especially noticeable. Now, I’m not a face painter myself, but I do recognize that there is good face painting and BAD face painting. Showing your pride through team colors—thumbs up. Looking like you’re trying out for some sort of zombie trumpet player role—thumbs down.

5. If you cry at the game…the camera will find you! When the camera zeroes in on some dejected player, my heart just withers. But you don’t have to be a team member to have your “boo hoo” moment broadcast all over the country. Coach’s wives and kids have become fair game as well. At least when we’re watching the game at home, no one can exploit our sadness 😦

6. Never before have I found myself rooting so hard against my own bracket. I play the odds when it comes to my picks and then find myself cheering for the upset. Every.  Time.  Yes, I have money on the line and yet I still can’t help myself. I get tired of the same teams winning it all year after year.

Sean with tickets to the madness.  Yes, it makes you crazy :)

Sean with tickets to the madness. Yes, it makes you crazy 🙂

7. This year, for the first time ever (in my case) the madness has caused lines to be drawn within my inner circle. I found myself second guessing beloved kin and friends (at one point I publicly announced that I was considering disowning my own son for going against my alma mater.) This stuff is for real!

So, bring on the Sweet Sixteen! I love it. It’s the lion and the lamb, the greatest highs and the deepest lows. We see teams rising to the occasion and others falling flat on their faces. Players and coaches getting caught up in the moment and commentators that make us want to pull our hair out or unplug the TV. (Have you noticed what flip-floppers these announcers are? Good thing this is basketball and not politics. Talk about playing to which ever team is ahead.) Yes, indeed this is March Madness! What else could grab die-hard fans and fun-loving onlookers and unify them into one massive sporting experience? My bracket is basically shot at this point, but I don’t care. Wait… I think that’s another symptom of the madness!

I wish I was at work instead of watching basketball.  Said NO ONE ever.  –unknown

Just Might Be a Cool Mom

I had this zany idea the other day…let’s make a snow day Harlem Shake video–and upload it on youtube!  What? Yeah, I know. It’s not exactly the sort of thing that pops into the head of a quiet midwest Mom (sometimes I even surprise myself.)  So, how does one arrive at the idea of a snow day Harlem Shake?  Glad you asked.  Let me walk you through it.

The whole thing started when I saw the Kansas Jayhawk basketball team’s Harlem Shake video.  A die-hard Jayhawk fan, I absolutely loved it and shared it with my kids.  They liked it.  Liked it?  That’s right, they liked it as in they watched it once and moved on.  Okay.  Mmmm, maybe this Harlem Shake thing isn’t exactly cool.  But it sure was funny and I soon found myself cruising youtube looking for more Harlem Shake videos.  Before I knew it I had watched a couple dozen videos (some good, some not so good).  Eventually, I decided to turn to everybody’s favorite source for information–Wikipedia–and find out more about these videos.  Turns out it’s this big web frenzy…complete with rules and criteria like masks, costumes, wielding objects and in some cases, very little clothing!  The whole things lasts less than one minute and I thought to myself…it might be fun to make one.  Of course, I never (ever) thought we actually would–but Mother Nature had a better plan.

Enter the big midwest snow storm!  Wednesday’s light snow and modest accumulations  (mixed with the weatherman’s doomsday overnight forecast) led us to cancel Wednesday night activities at church.  A relaxed night of Jayhawk basketball ensued (LOL that game was anything but relaxing!)  Word that school was cancelled for Thursday made room for a laid back morning and an additional 5 inches of snow created opportunities for some outdoor fun.  We could have headed to the backyard to build a snowman (I like snowmen), but blame it on the Jayhawks victory, their funny Harlem Shake video and the rare occurrence of a well-rested Mom and an idea was born.  I announced my plans over lunch.  No one was as excited as I was. 

I headed to the basement to gather some props.  I explained the “rules” of the video to the kiddos and swore that it would take 5 minutes or less to create.  Still, no one moved.  I bribed them with the promise of hot cocoa and extra play time in the snow that afternoon.  They were slow to get moving, grumbled all the way out the door, and gave me blank stares when I directed them into the yard.  My son complained that the whole thing was embarrassing (and he’s an EXTROVERT) while my daughter moped and sulked in the snow.  Three minutes later we were done and they were FREE!  They couldn’t get to their friends fast enough and I was left feeling like the “uncool” Mom with the “uncool” idea of making a Harlem Shake video. 

Fast forward to later that afternoon.  The video had been edited and uploaded.  I asked the kids to come see the finished product.  The smile that crept across their faces was priceless.  My children are hams at heart and love to see themselves on any screen.  They giggled.  They asked me to play it again.  They laughed at themselves, laughed at each other and of course, laughed at their parents.  I linked the video to my Facebook page and we laughed together throughout the day as family and friends liked and commented on our video. 

We were surprised this morning to see that our video had more than 60 views on youtube…for today’s “plugged in” kids that’s a pretty big deal.  Our snow day Harlem Shake video was the buzz at the only hill in town worth sledding on–which means… this little family project just might be labeled a success, that as parents we aren’t that lame and out of touch and finally, that for once (yes once),  I just might be a cool Mom.

No one in this world will ever love you like your Mom.   author unknown

The Tribe Jayhawk

Still smiling, heart bursting, always a proud Jayhawk!

The Kansas Jayhawks lost the 2012 NCAA Championship game 67-59 on Monday night, but for so many the sting of defeat is already gone.  Maybe I’m speaking for myself, but I sense something different in the Jayhawk nation…something that I hope lasts for a really long time.  I’m talking about gratitude.  You see my alma mater has had a little problem in the past.  Believe it or not, people actually think KU fans are “arrogant” and “haughty”.  Some have even called us “snobby” (and these are the so-called nice comments from people I know and like–you can imagine some of the other names that get bounced around in less polite company!)

I’ll admit, we’ve been spoiled in the past.  Filled with expectations and on occasion, “hard” on our team.  However, this year fans watched, rallied and cheered on a team that was highly questionable compared to past teams and the season was initially dubbed a “rebuilding” year.  Nevertheless, the Jayhawk faithful rearranged their schedules to watch games, purchased additional cable/satellite packages to see them play on networks like ESPNU and donned their KU garb to support the team.  And something wonderful happened…we WON!  And we kept winning–games that polls, commentators, and basketball insiders said the Jayhawks couldn’t win.  That’s when the fun really started!  Around town, at work, in schools, and even before morning worship on Sundays, fans were talking about this unbelievable team.  We were bonding over the near heart attacks and close calls.  We were beaming at Thomas Robinson’s amazing season.  We were marveling at the transformed Jeff Withey who showed up to play this year (thank you Danny Manning and Andrea Hudy!)  We were developing an affection for Tyshawn Taylor during BOTH his ups and his downs.  KU fans were making room in their hearts for less familiar faces on the court–Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Kevin Young and many others.  Basketball fans were (re)discovering this team.  We were falling in love all over again with the Jayhawks…and isn’t that how love happens…when you least expect it!

The thing I have enjoyed the most has been the “love fest” we saw among fans during the NCAA tournament.  In some ways, the tournament was like undertaking a strenuous new exercise program.  There were heart bursting moments, heart attack inducing first halves, heart warming game finishes and ultimately a heartbreaking loss.  It was a real workout!  And post game, the sentiment that ran through everyone from the coach and players, to alumni and fans was true gratitude.  Coach Self gushed about his team and the love he has for each member.  The players spoke of each other like family (not just family, but a family that actually loves each other.)  Sports writers went on and on about how this season exceeded the expectations of so many.  And everybody talked about gratitude.  Gratitude for the effort the team put into the game, gratitude for the talent of the coach and coaching staff and gratitude for the overall “ride.”  This is not a “cinderella” story, the history of the KU basketball program is anything but that.  This is a story of finding $20 dollars in your pocket–you didn’t expect it, you don’t deserve it, you don’t know where it came from or why, but, man, isn’t it AWESOME?  What an amazing season…and just like that it’s all over.

Some people will read this and think I’m going over the top (and those who know me well, know that I’m known for such things.)  Still the whole experience reminds me of something I read once about tribal affiliation.  Many think that tribes are part of the past.  We’re civilized now, right?.  Advanced even.  Yet our thinking, our brain wiring retains some ties to ancient society  Years ago our survival depended upon being part of a tribe.  The tribe was our family.  It was a source of pride.  People were grateful for their tribe.  Nowadays, people equate tribes with regions of the country, brand loyalty, and of course, sport team affiliations.  Today’s tribalism is a source of social recognition, socialization and symbolism.  For myself, being a Jayhawk is not just about belonging to the tribe of my family (yes, we’re ALL Jayhawk fans!), but it’s a reminder of my personal opportunity to grow in education and life knowledge.  The time that I spent in Lawrence taught me so much about who I am and what I believe.  It prepared me for so many different experiences.  It opened doors and took me places that I couldn’t have imagined.  I’m part of the Tribe Jayhawk.  And so here’s where my personal gratitude to a school that I love comes full circle with the gratitude that I feel has infiltrated the hearts of so many Jayhawk basketball fans this season.

In this life, nothing is promised.  In the big scheme of things, college basketball (and sports in general) are like the wind—fleeting.  So when you have the opportunity to see gratitude (even if it’s in something as commonplace as sports), I hope that you’ll recognize it.  More than that I hope you make gratitude part of your every day life.  Nothing makes my heart sing like seeing those around me recognize the blessings in their lives–they are abundant if you just take a moment to look for them.

I don’t know what next’s year basketball season will be like.  Early reports show that the Jayhawks will have a good team.  I know that there are many fans who EXPECT the KU basketball team to be top-rated every year.  Regardless of early predictions, I hope that we will remember this season–and the spirit of gratitude that it brought with it!  A gratitude that made the Jayhawks a better team and the rest of us better fans.

Still smiling, heart bursting, always a proud and grateful Jayhawk!