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VOL. 128 | NO. 105 | Thursday, May 30, 2013

Vic Fleming

Commencement Address – Part 2

By Vic Fleming

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(Continuing my apologies to Schmick, Wheelan, Rowling, Lamott, Wallace, Sedaris, and others, I offer Part 2 of the graduation speech I’ve never given. Part 1 ended On Election Day, 1996. Executing a plan to visit 25 polling places, I got caught in traffic, went down a road I’d no intention of traveling, and wound up at a polling place I’d not intended of visiting. It was 5:30 p.m., and the volunteers at this place expected only a dozen or so voters in the next two hours.)

Getting in my car to leave, I was interrupted by a car pulling into the lot. I got out, introduced myself to a couple and asked for their vote. The man said, “You’re all alone in this cold dark parking lot? At this hour? On election day?! You’ve got our vote!”

No sooner had I got back into my car than another vehicle entered the lot. I repeated what I’d done with the first. Then another car pulled in. And another. I stood in that lot for two hours. When the polls closed, I went back inside. The volunteers told me 99 votes had been cast since 5:30.

Five hours later, the Election Commission notified me that, with 50,000 votes counted, and 1,000 thousand more to count, I was ahead by 81 votes. My margin of victory would increase to 257, but I cannot attest to cause and effect. Had I not worked as hard, I might have won by 10,000 votes. Had I been able to consummate my plan without last-minute improvisation, I might have lost the election.

Be careful whose advice you buy into, and be tolerant of anyone who gives it.

Don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself too harshly. Most of your choices are half chance. But so are everyone else’s.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you, monetarily.

Worrying about the future is about as effective as tackling geometry problems with a bag of jellybeans.

All of you will succeed some of the time. All of you will fail at something. Don’t sweat the failure. Rock bottom can be a good foundation on which to rebuild.

The true problems that you will deal with in life are apt to be things that never crossed your mind. More likely than not, they will blindside you on an idle Tuesday afternoon and keep you up until four in the morning, when you will fall asleep without a firm resolution.

The quality of anything you build, whether it be a birdhouse or a relationship, will not be known for sure until it is tested by adversity. And no matter what your level of achievement ultimately is, the attendance at your memorial service will depend, in large part, on the weather.

Read the directions, even when you have no intention of following them.

Your life will be a mess more often than not. In that reality will lurk both joy and sorrow, and not too far apart. This is what makes life puzzling. And rewarding.

When all else fails, go back and follow the directions.

Don’t be a butthead. Sing. Dance. Stretch. Cry. Laugh. Have some fun.

And don’t forget about the Neti Pot, dental floss and sunscreen.

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 vicfleming@att.net.

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