Last Day of School

I remember my high school graduation. The song my senior class sang. The note I tried to hit and didn’t quite make. The hat I threw that almost knocked me unconscious on the way back down. The speech I gave…last because I’m a “W.” Which also meant I was at the front of my recessional. Unfortunately, no one followed me off the stage and I ended up marching down a very long aisle by myself. I tried to smile enough to make it look like I did the right thing and it was the rest of the class marching down the wrong aisle on the other side of the auditorium.

I knew that night that school wasn’t really over for me. I was already studying so I could earn another paper certificate that said I knew something. Four more years to go. But I was ready for the next challenge because if I had learned nothing else over the prior twelve years, it was what hard work looked like.

Because I was born lazy. Really lazy.

I didn’t like chores. I didn’t like school. I didn’t like to work. Or anything that looked, smelled, or sounded like work.

I didn’t like to exercise. I didn’t like to do math. I didn’t like to clean my room or even make my bed.

So God gave me two very critical character building influences in my life that really boil down into one: Homeschool. And my mother.

And that’s what this story is really about.

My mother was a stay at home mom as long as we were home. But she worked. Yes, goodness knows, she worked.All 1982

My mom raised kids, taught us school, ran an Awana club, ran a homeschool group, cooked, cleaned, paid bills, and taught us and a lot of other girls so many other things…sewing, painting, decorating, driving, and so much more.

I must have made her a little bit crazy because I was not a fan of work. I didn’t like to sweat. I didn’t see any point in doing the same type of math problems day after day, page after page. I didn’t really think I needed to know what happened on this planet 5,000 years ago or even 500 years ago. I didn’t see any point in running around an empty track. And I hated, hated, hated practicing piano.

If I got a lecture about racing through assignments, cutting corners, and being sloppy, I got 1,000. How I hated that lecture.

And I was only one of five kids.

So…here’s the thing: Day after day, my mom trained me and my siblings. She taught us to study, to do chores, to practice music, to memorize Scripture. She taught us to work. Yes, goodness knows, she taught us to work.

After years of persistence by my mother, I made it to graduation. But she had two more kids to go. Five more years of homeschool.

Two more kids who didn’t like doing the same math problems day after day, page after page. Who didn’t really think they needed to know what happened on this planet 5,000 years ago and who hated, hated, hated practicing piano.

When my brother—the youngest—graduated, Mom had been a mother for 26 years and had been homeschooling about 23. She deserved a break.

So here’s the other thing: After all that, my mom went to work.

She started teaching kindergarten, but she didn’t stay with the half day of letters and sounds long. She was turned into a high school science teacher. Physical Science. Biology. Physics. Microbiology. Life Science. Chemistry. Biochemistry. It varied from year to year, curriculum to curriculum. Just when she got something down, it would change.

Over the next twelve years, my mom worked as hard as the US President. She studied. She taught. She wrote tests. She designed PowerPoints. She helped kids prepare science projects and hosted science fairs. She drove back and forth to school on her days off to turn eggs in incubators. She took pictures of birds and flowers that she could use for future presentations. She built robots. She cleaned up roadkill so she could use animal skeletons for future classes. Yep, true story.

Now things were different. She wasn’t the principal. She wasn’t the parent. But some things were the same: she was generally dealing with lazy students who didn’t give a rip about the pictures of flowers and birds.

So, it was a good thing that she is a hard worker. It was years of long days, short nights, and super short summers. Years of commitment. Years of pouring her energy into lazy kids who didn’t want to learn science…and a few who did.

She got paid. But let’s just say, she didn’t do it for the paycheck. That would have been insanity. Okay, it was insanity.

But that’s my mom. Did I mention she is a hard worker? Insanely hard.

And after years of teaching and training, she has made an impact. If on no one else, on me. I no longer think it’s futile to do pages of math problems or study history of the world or practice music. I no longer race through projects and cut corners. Some of that comes from time and maturity, but most of that maturity came from godly influences. Like my mom.

This week marks my mom’s last “last day” of school. She is retiring from her job as a full time teacher. I couldn’t be more excited for her. Or more proud. She has invested so much more than science in so many lives. They may not all appreciate it now, but they have all learned something.

And I know this: if they passed one of her classes, they worked hard. It was far more than robots, hatching eggs, and handling animal skeletons. It was hard work.

Pages of problem solving.

No racing through projects; no cutting corners.

And today, I’m as proud of my mom on her last day as she possibly could have been of me on mine.

Thanks, Mom. Job well done. Now, enjoy a long, long summer!

Okay Grads, Here’s My Advice:

thEXP33LMKIf you’ve perused the card aisle recently, I’d bet my teeth that this is the jist of what you read in the graduation section. And if you are like me, this is what you thought.

Follow your dreams. After all, It worked for My Little Pony, the Little Mermaid, and Rainbow Brite.

Believe in yourself. Because there are a few worse things you could believe in—like zombies, My Little Pony, and Rainbow Brite.

Reach for the sky. There’s nothing up there. But it will be a good stretch.

Be yourself. Don’t let anyone change you. Just be yourself at a big school on the other side of the state so I don’t have to put up with your selfish attitudes.

Enjoy the journey. And if you get a job, you might have enough money to travel, too.

Look inside yourself; then follow your heart. Wow. And they say texting and driving is dangerous!

What you believe, you can achieve. Yeah, I guess CNN still doesn’t believe in finding Flight 370.

What matters in life is not your success, but your significance. And you’ll never be able to accurately measure either one. That’s depressing.

YOU did it! That’s right…YOU opened your eyes every morning when the alarm your parents bought you went off. Then YOU put on the clothes your dad paid for, ate the breakfast your mom made, and one of them dropped YOU off at school carrying the lunch your mom packed. YOU stayed alive all day while your teachers tried to beat knowledge into your head against your will, and then YOU sat and griped at the kitchen table while your mom made you do your home work. And when it was all over, your parents made you go to bed so YOU would get enough rest to do it all again the next day. For a lot of years.

And now I’m writing YOU a check.

Needless to say, I am unimpressed with graduation cards.

So I googled the best graduation speeches. I read speeches given by everyone from Steve Jobs to Steven Colbert. And each of them were basically the same thing as reading the wall of cards at the grocery store. You did it! Now follow your dreams. You haven’t failed until you stopped trying. I don’t think there have been more commonly repeated lies (with maybe the exception of that little thing about how you could keep your insurance).

To be fair, there were a few statements here and there about hard work and giving back. But almost every speaker seemed to be trying to inspire graduates to ______________? I’m not sure. Be themselves??? Keep moving forward???   Think??? Why, at graduation, do we all feel so compelled to inspire and yet resort to such ridiculous statements like this card.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for celebrating milestones. And I think there is hard work involved in school—especially some school—that is worth rewarding. But it truly amazes me how many words a speaker can string together and say nothing. On graduation day, that seems to be completely acceptable. Even for non-politicians.

But what most graduates need is not as much recognition of their achievement, but preparation for change. When a graduation is followed by a major life changes—different location, different friends, different activities, different schedule, and student loan payments–all at once, it is little wonder that so many grads struggle. Good thing we’ve equipped them with helpful phrases such as: Like shining stars, every one of us has the potential to light up the darkness with our own particular brilliance.  [Author unknown.  I didn’t write that gem.]

I feel compelled to do better than that. And since no one asked me to speak at a graduation and since I can’t find any good cards, here is my advice:

Practically: Get a job. Any job.  Forget all this nonsense about doing what you love.  The fact is, you won’t love any job every day.  You will love a job most if you are good at it.  And you will get good at it by doing.  So yes, get a job you think you’ll like if you can.  And if you can’t, just get a job.

Work hard. Try to make your employer successful. Don’t be above any task. Learn everything you can learn—in your mind, don’t think of it as flipping hamburgers, think of it as learning how to run a business. You can build valuable skills just about anywhere.

Be kind to your co-workers. You will enjoy your job more and you will learn how important people skills are to anything you do. If your co-workers are obnoxious, weed-smoking, partiers, then take note of the fact that they work at a hamburger joint and for Pete’s sake, don’t try to be like them. Work that much harder so you can get out of there faster. Take the good and leave the bad, but be kind in the process.

Respect your boss. He knows more than you do. True story. Sure, he may not appreciate you for everything you are and do. He may not know all the hoops you had to jump through to carry out his instructions. He may not keep you informed of everything that you really should have been told. But that’s life. And one day, when you’re the boss, you’ll forgive him everything.

Emotionally: Be grateful.

If you want to be happy, be grateful. Gratitude can lift your spirits like a hot air balloon and an ungrateful heart will sink you right into the electrical wires. Remember how little of your achievements are really that—your achievements. Thank the people who have invested in you.

Spiritually: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. All the other things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

So there’s my advice for graduates.  And here is my free bonus advice: don’t get a tattoo.

And here’s my advice for non-graduates: Don’t waste your money on a card. Just write your check for $4.00 more and give it to them with a firm handshake. If they feel cheated, they can always go to the grocery store and buy themselves a card.

But I’ll bet my teeth that they won’t.