(With apologies to Schmick, Wheelan, Rowling, Lamott, Wallace, Sedaris and others, here is the graduation speech I’ve never been asked to give – in two parts.)
Thank you, etc. Three tips for the future: Sunscreen, dental floss and the Neti Pot. I’m convinced these three things enhance one’s quality of life in ways that are just shy of miraculous. Don’t wait till later in life to enjoy them. Additionally ...
Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are – starting with your significant other.
People who say they want what’s best for you don’t mean it. They want what’s safe for you. To succeed in your chosen field, you may have to disappoint some folks, at least at the outset.
Do things that scare you.
A few of you will achieve your dreams. Many of you will have to come up with something else.
Don’t waste time with jealousy or possessiveness.
In personal and business matters, yielding a little more than you have to will often be worth whatever pain you sense it’s causing.
Remember compliments. Forget insults. Keep love notes. Delete bank statements.
Don’t be reckless with other’s emotions. Don’t be easy on those who are reckless with yours.
Remember that life works, in large part, because not too many members of your tribe are bonkers on the same day.
Honestly (a word I seldom use, since it implies that sometimes I’m not honest), I have no idea how I got where I am today. When people succeed, I doubt that they really know why. A lot of it is luck. A lot of it is willingness to work without a net.
At this – the approximate midway point of the speech – I digress to tell a story that may or may not illustrate a point.
When I decided to run for office in 1996, I was advised to work harder than the other candidates. Do what each of them has done, I was told, then go home and make a hundred calls. And work until the last minute.
Come Election Day, for six months I’d heeded my adviser’s words. The plan for that day involved going from polling place to polling place, from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., working the crowds at 25 specific locations. I was on track to meet that goal when, at 5:15 p.m., I got caught in traffic.
In a moment of anxiety, I took what I hoped was a shortcut. The traffic was backed up there as well. Half a mile down this road I’d not intended to take was a polling place I had not intended to visit – Western Hills United Methodist Church.
Temperatures had dropped, and it was misting rain. I went inside, greeted the poll workers and learned that more people than expected had voted already. Thus, especially given the weather, they anticipated a dozen voters, perhaps, between the present moment and the polls’ closing two hours hence. I thanked them and left the building.
Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.