Now And Then

‘Tis the season of commencement for high schools, colleges, universities, and graduate schools of all kinds.

Everyone from newscasters to sports figures to politicians to entertainers will be on podiums adjuring, encouraging, proselytizing, or imparting some ostensible words of wisdom.

I was fortunate to attend excellent schools, but for the life of me I cannot recall who my graduation speakers were or what they said. Yet I’m sure they were distinguished, even famous. If anything resonated with me, it did so subliminally. However, the experiences I had at these schools – those I remember.

In my secondary schooling, in order to graduate we were required to write our Hoc Credo, which is Latin for “This I Believe.” How I wish I had hung onto that to look back and see how my enthusiastic 18-year-old mind saw the world! As I dimly recall, I selected Leibniz as my philosopher of choice with his cheery “this is the best of all possible worlds” worldview. We were working on putting a man on the moon at that time.

I recently returned to that Atlanta prep school, which has gained in its prominence and rigorous academic tradition. While the beautiful campus looked much unchanged, the new building that arose was the technology building where all students now get their hands dirty learning what, for all the world, looked to me like a high-tech shop on steroids.

Arguably the greatest change in my lifetime has been technology. I have no idea how to use a 3-D printer, design inventions, create algorithms, or do many other things students learn to do today. I only know that I fear the double-edged sword of technology that both unites and divides us. Will it one day render us useless?

My granddaughter and I recently found an unopened letter my daughter, who was then graduating elementary school from a local private school, wrote to be opened 25 years later. My granddaughter was fascinated to see what her mother had written as a girl just a little older than she is. In a childish 11-year-old scrawl, her mother hoped at this point in her life to be happily married with children. She is. She predicted many new inventions. I’d say the Internet, cell phones, and drones qualify her as prescient. She hoped for world peace. Oops, not so much. So is this the best of all possible worlds? While much of my education still informs my life, my own experiences in the last half-century would temper that worldview of Leibniz.

It’s a complicated world, and the jobs that today’s graduates will pursue will somehow all be linked through technology. Yet there will no doubt be multiple reinventions of self and new technological advances.

With the rapidly changing world, flexibility may well be the most desired trait we can proffer to graduates. Who can envision the world of our grandchildren when there may no longer be automobiles as the major means of transportation? What if drones or jet packs are transporting people? What if cell phones become obsolete? Yet if everything is mechanized and automated, what work will people do that gives their ever lengthening lives meaning? How to best prepare students for this blitzkrieg of change? Have all our material comforts and technology made us better human beings?

Hoc credo: The most important thing is the here and now. Write it down because you won’t remember. That’s what I have done in letters with all of my grandchildren for them to open in 10 years when they are teenagers. Hang on to how your world is, what your hopes are, and then every decade take it out, review, and update. Then go back to your class reunions. Why? Because at some level all those people were your tribe no matter how lonely or difficult that time might have been. See what you’ve learned about yourself. Our alums were all over the political, religious, and economic spectrum. Nobody arrived to this point in life without some suffering, tragedies, and triumphs. People change. People grow. People survive. Memories mellow. We were interested in and kind to one another. Do that. For after a half-century of ups and downs, those of us who just gathered to remember concluded that it is always good to sing, laugh, dance, and be 18 again.

Len Bourland is the author of “Normal’s Just a Cycle on a Washing Machine” and can be reached at [email protected] or at www.lenbourland.com

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