A TikTok graduation speech

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He took the photo above, featuring Pearl Lear, Ethan Lear, and Megan Windeshausen Lear.

I don’t remember who spoke at my high school graduation. It wasn’t memorable. The class before us had Dick Clark as the speaker. It wasn’t the Dick “I’d give it a 5, because it’s got a good beat, and easy to dance to” Clark. Rather, it was Iowa’s U.S. Senator Dick Clark. But that class had 24 members and a newly minted gym to celebrate. We had thirteen graduating, and by then the new gym smelled old. No senator in sight.

I know I was there, because I remember my graduation hat didn’t fit, and it kept falling forward, so I saw only the pomp, and missed the circumstances. I did keep the tassel, but it faded to a weird pink color from hanging on my rear-view mirror too long.

I wasn’t valedictorian or salutatorian, but I was in the top ten. But being in the top ten of thirteen doesn’t earn a graduation speaking gig. So 48 years later, I offer my unsolicited graduation speech.

Since this is the TikTok generation, this will be a TikTok speech complete with a challenge. No Tide Pod eating here. Just thank the people who got you to graduation. It may be those you consider family, or it may be a teacher, a lunch lady, a bus driver, custodian, or principal. Don’t do it by email. These thanks should be face to face.

Now, some TikTok advice.

  • It’s a short walk from the hallelujah to the hoot. Bask in the hallelujah and ignore the hoot.
  • When you run into numbskulls treating everything as ironic…run away. They think they’re always the smartest in the room. They’ll drain your soul.
  • No prince is going to give you a million dollars if you send them $1,000.
  • Be on the side of those who don’t seem to have anyone by their side.
  • There’s history from before you were born. Study it and learn from it.
  • Read banned books like Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Bluest Eye, and the Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.
  • Watch “Breaking Bad.” It’s a morality play.
  • Practice compromising. It’s an art that will serve you well.
  • Be “woke.” If you’re not “woke,” you’re asleep to injustice, intolerance, and hate. (Moms for Liberty may leave now to prepare the tar and feathers.)
  • If your religion teaches you to hate, find a new religion.
  • If you have kids and you’re helping them with story problems about two trains traveling at different speeds, talk about who are on the trains and what they’re going to do when they get to where they’re going.
  • Shun grievance politics from both parties.
  • Vote, even if you hate politics. If you think there aren’t good candidates, run yourself.
  • If you have kids, cover your fridge with their art.
  • You don’t have to go to college to be smart, but you might need more training to earn more legal tender. Find something you love and learn the skills to do it well.
  • Challenge authority by speaking truth. 
  • Be kind.
  • Get in some good trouble. Stand for something. If you don’t stand for anything, you’ll stand for everything. 
  • Politicians who say, “I never back down” think they’re always right. They aren’t.
  • If you have kids, show up at their sports, dance, plays, and music concerts. 
  • Finally, “Kiss slowly. Forgive quickly.” Enough said.

Thanks for letting me speak. Save your tassel and throw your hat in the air. You give me hope.

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