With my oldest daughter on the verge of high school graduation (can it be?), I have taken the opportunity to reflect on the past 18 years of parenting. These Millennial Generation kids, who have been videotaped and photographed ceaselessly since birth, are nearing the snapping point of the umbilical rope which my generation has lowered down to them as we hovered above. In criticism of myself, it has dawned on me that I forgot to ever sit down and teach her right from wrong or give wise advice. And so with time rapidly running out, the best I could come up with follows.
It takes the form of the commencement address I have not been asked to give. And so, good people, if nothing else, then you can at the least appreciate its brevity.
Friends and graduates: Since not a one of you asked me to be here today, the following advice I pass on to you comes free. I should first tell you that this advice comes not from me but instead was given to me by one Harold Smith. "Who is Harold Smith?" you might ask. Instead, "Who was Harold Smith" is the far better question. Harold Smith, now deceased, was formerly of Ford Motor Company. His wise advice came to me via a 30 minute drivers' safety film I and my fellow drivers education students were forced to watch in 1984. The film itself was dated, even then. And though I have largely forgotten and even mostly ignored his safety advice for the past 27 years, it strikes me now as especially sound for those of you about to further embark on life's journey. And, so, without further delay and only slight modification from the original, I give you Harold's wise advice:
1. Aim high. Although Smith was talking about steering, as applied to daily life you will thrive with lofty goals always in mind. Achieve them or not, remembering always that the experience and effort are often the ultimate reward and greatest memory.
2. Keep your eyes moving. A brilliant piece of advice when applied to all endeavors. Always be aware of where you are, who you are surrounded by, and receive the very best each has to offer. In return, give friendship, loyalty, humor, and intelligence. Expose yourself to everything and as many others as you possibly can. Sure enough, later on, life will work pretty hard (and pretty successfully) at narrowing your fields of interest and opportunities. Put up a good fight on this one beginning now!
3. Get the big picture. Ah, yes, perspective. A keen perspective can minimize unnecessary drama and keep you largely on track. There is no underestimating the importance of this one. Simply brilliant.
4. Make sure others see you. A big item. Whether it's political activism or charitable work, be active, get involved. Just do, do, do! And, lastly:
5. Leave yourself an out. This one's become my specialty. Don't ever get yourself so boxed in that you can't see a way to move beyond. There's no problem that can't be addressed, dealt with, and, more often than not, solved (or resolved). And just remember that your parents are here (stuck!) to lend a hand if you get yourself in too deep.
And, so, newly minted adults and graduates of the class of 2013, that's it — all the advice I have to give. After 45 years of life experience and with ideas all pilfered from another, it comes down to just five simple rules. So whether you're driving a car or taking your life out for a spin, just remember these handy tips courtesy of Harold Smith and the Ford Motor Company. With them, you should forever be on the right track. And with that, if anyone is interested in purchasing a “gently used” helicopter, as my official parenting duties wind down, please see me afterwards!
Samuel Z. Kaplan is a Toledo attorney and president of the city's Civil Service Commission.