High school graduation is just a couple of weeks away, and I find myself wondering what advice I would pass on to all those young adults heading out into the world.
Then I find myself wondering, when did I turn into that old guy who feels like he has to give everyone else advice?
The answer, I think, is that watching your youngest child navigate her senior year of high school during a pandemic will age you. I mean, just having a senior in high school will age you, but the past 12 months have felt quite a bit longer than that. I can’t help but compare my senior year of high school (which was 30 years ago — no wonder I’m feeling old) and my experiences to what my kids have experienced during their senior years.
I remember my high school graduation speaker, the evening news anchor from one of the local TV stations. He ran through a list of what things were like when he graduated from high school — bread was nickel, gas was a quarter and he listened to music on 45’s.
I don’t remember how much bread was when I graduated, but I know my mom had to buy a lot of it for a family of six. Gas prices had just jumped significantly, up over a dollar, due the first Gulf War. I shared a car with my twin sister at the time, and our $5-per-week gas allowance didn’t get us as far as it once had. Of course, the issue became moot when I wrecked the car and had to ride my bike everywhere for the summer.
And we listened to our music on cassettes. Sure, compact discs were hitting the music store shelves, but they cost about twice as much and those early disc players skipped when your car hit a bump. Our version of Spotify was a stereo with dual tape decks. Grab a pack of blank cassettes and you could make mix tapes to your heart’s content.
It’s certainly been a different experience for this year’s seniors. I still don’t know how much a loaf of bread costs, but there’s so many more options than the white or wheat that I grew up on — and we use tortilla wraps instead of bread half the time anyway. I’m not sure how much my daughter worries about gas prices, because so many of the opportunities to gather in-person were scuttled over the past year.
And of course, kids today listen to music on their phones. They have a catalogue of every song ever recorded at their fingertips — it’s how my son discovered punk rock versions of Polish folk songs. With headphones or a portable wireless speaker, they can bring it anywhere. They don’t even need to scavenge D batteries from all the flashlights in the house just to get it to work.
Isn’t technology amazing?
That brings me back to my original thought, which was advice I would give to this year’s graduates. And the truth is, I don’t know. Things seem to change so fast that what seems like solid advice today is obsolete tomorrow. I’m closer to retirement (I hope) than the start of my career, and I’m still constantly learning new things. Heck, I just started a new exercise plan, and I need to make a cheat sheet of all the data I’m supposed to be collecting — which, apparently, I can do from my phone.
So, instead of advice, I’m going to make a request: As you go out into the world, do so with empathy. There will come a day — sooner than you think — where some younger person will question your life experience and all the decisions you’ve made along the way.
While you’re still the younger person, please remember that there’s usually a pretty good reason why us old folks do things the way we do. Give us some credit, because we’ve done some pretty significant things. And keep in mind that we’re still growing as people, just as you are, too.
Congratulations to the Class of 2021. I’m excited to see how you change the world — and what new way you invent to listen to music.
In the meantime, if I could get some help making a mix tape on Spotify, I’d sure appreciate it.
Will Morrow lives in Kenai. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.