So, there I was Saturday, sitting in the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center with hundreds of other moms and dads and assorted friends and family members of Lakeside High School graduates, listening to the drone of speakers and wishing for a more comfortable chair and a TV remote, when I once again had a startling revelation:
That could be me on the stage being politely tolerated by the audience.
Instead, once again, another series of Columbia County high school commencements have come and gone, and once again my invitation to speak apparently was lost in the mail.
It's understandable; we moved about five weeks ago, and the U.S. Post Office now forwards local mail through Macon, according to a helpful Evans Post Office clerk.
When they failed to get my response to the invitation that I never received, I guess the commencement organizers must have reluctantly resorted to their "B" list, which explains some of the droning -- that, or I accidentally wandered into a dental insurance seminar.
All kidding aside (well, not all of it), this is my annual tip of the hat to my old friend Aubrey Shaw. The late News-Times columnist longed to impart his wit and wisdom to graduates, and I've faithfully carried on the tradition.
Of course, I make it a point to lament the lack of an invitation only after it's too late for anyone to say "Wow! We could have invited Barry to speak? Why didn't we think of that?"
I've written these annual laments long enough that I could compile a "best of" list from previous comments mourning lost invitations. For example:
From 2002: "The folks who think their education is superior because they went to the school in the "good old days" are deluding themselves. Fewer of today's students drop out. Their literacy levels are higher. Their math skills are far more advanced.
"Sure, their manners sometimes stink, and they often dress like they were standing too close when a thrift store exploded. But they're good kids. We've pushed them hard, and they met the challenge."
From 2003: "For those of you at yesterday's commencement ceremonies, do you recall much, if anything, about what was said? Most in the long-suffering audience were probably wishing for a Coke or popcorn, but the school board a couple of years ago turned down a request from the Civic Center to allow concession sales. Trustees were rightly concerned about proper decorum, an important consideration that unfortunately doesn't negate the handful of louts who seem compelled to "Whoo-hoo!" their way through such occasions with all the dignity of tractor-pull groupies."
From 2004: "What were we talking about, again? All this discussion about graduates gave me a senior moment. (That was a play on words, one of those lighthearted comments required in the "witty" phase of a good commencement speech -- the part that comes just before the serious message, which itself precedes the most important section: The Conclusion.)"
Come to think of it, if someone in the schools sniffed mimeograph fluid until deciding that inviting me to speak was a good idea, my comments undoubtedly would have been mere echoes of all the famous Columbia County high school commencement speakers who've gone before: people such as... well, I'm sure there were some famous ones, like that guy, you know, the one who told the stories; remember him?
Me either. Which is the same thing people would be saying today if they'd been in the audience yesterday and I'd been on the stage. The graduates would have something far more important to remember: Summer vacation starts today. And so does everything else.
Congratulations, graduates, on new beginnings.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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