On behalf of the university, its staff, and all the alumni of our fine institution, I bid a warm welcome to the graduating class of 2021.
What an exciting year to be completing your studies at our university. Yes, I realize that you didn’t exactly complete your studies “at” our university, but we did include the school colors in all our Zoom backgrounds and we did insist that you rent space in our dorms even when you couldn’t be here, so it’s really the same thing.
At first, I was a bit nervous about speaking to such a large group, even on Zoom, but I remembered that incredibly sensible advice that I should imagine all of you are just sitting there in your underwear. And that’s easy to do, since I can see so many of you actually are sitting there in your underwear. Also, it turns out that Spiderman underpants come in adult sizes.
Of course, you didn’t travel all the way from your kitchen to your dining room table to listen to a long presentation about the glories of our university or the traditions we uphold. You want to hear about how special you are and how bright your future is, and you especially want to hear that you’ll be able to pay back your student loans before you die.
I am delighted to tell you that I can answer all your questions in the affirmative. Yes, you are a truly special class, a group of immensely gifted students who mastered the art of packing, again and again, while we announced and retracted our campus opening plans 42 times over the past 15 months. You completed more than 35,000 hours of distanced chemistry lab with only 17 homes burned down in the process. You made your school spirit known when you hacked into the scoreboard at the stadium to Rickroll the football team. And you certainly made your mark when you voted to replace our school mascot with a CBD gummy bear.
We know this past year has included a number of disappointments for you as we canceled many on-campus experiences. Many of you were upset you were unable to make out with your bae in the library and you couldn’t play Frisbee on the quad. You’ve told us you feel cheated because you didn’t spend enough time in our hallowed halls, partying with your friends in the dorm, and sharing meals in the cafeteria. (Well, actually nobody said they missed the cafeteria, but the staff there is very sensitive, so we are including them here.)
We feel your pain, but our attorneys want you to see this in the most positive of lights. When you return for your class reunions, it will be as if you are here for the first time. You’ll be energized and inspired as you experience the university in 3-D. And, of course, you’ll be surprised as you sample the unique offerings in our cafeteria. (Not pleasantly surprised, we know, but at least you’ll be grateful that you didn’t spend all four years dining on this stuff.)
Most important, our distanced journey over the past year has prepared you better than any other graduating class for the world you enter as adults. Working in isolation is now the number one job skill that almost every employer seeks. Whether you’ll be picking produce in the grocery store for Instacart or lubricating the self-driving cars for Uber or dropping Amazon boxes in somebody’s yard, your ability to thrive without human contact will make you even more valuable to the handful of companies that will still be hiring humans in the coming years.
For those of you who will be entering the white collar professions, your year of remote learning has prepared you for a lifetime career of working from home, sitting at the same dining room table where you have been based since early in 2020. While earlier graduating classes developed such obsolete skills as personal contact and team building, your graduating class is uniquely equipped for the brave new world of isolation, two-dimensional colleagues and, of course, working from home while wearing Spiderman underpants.
Yes, honored graduates, you are the most special, most prepared, most likely to succeed class in history. While many of the adjustments we made to your education over the past year were forced on us by the pandemic, we now recognize that they are the model we should follow from this day forward. Clearly, the incredible value of your remote education justifies the 27% tuition increase we implemented last September, and we look forward to increasing our distanced learning, and tuition, for many years to come.
And, no, we don’t give refunds.
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I like getting my underwear delivered in a cardboard box. I like leaving the car in the garage when I’m “attending” a meeting. I like getting my own seat on the bus. While everyone I know is positively giddy about a “return to normal,” I’m not so sure I want to join the party.
Fortunately, I won’t face that challenge because we aren’t returning to normal at all. Yes, we’ll probably get to a point this summer when a combination of vaccinations and herd immunity bring us back to almost all of our old pastimes, but it’s not going to be the same as the time before.
How could anything really be the same? We’re emerging from our reset with a different view of politics, of medicine, of our mortality. We come out of the pandemic with a different relationship with friends and family, tempered by political differences or Covid damage or a year of separation.
The high-schoolers and the college kids have a different worldview than before, and the newbies in the job market have a different basis for understanding their roles than the cohort that preceded them. The grandkids are a year older now, whether we had a chance to visit or not, and we cannot go back to recapture whatever we lost in our relationships with them.
We’ve changed our buying habits, businesses have reassessed their need for office space, the appeal of crowded bars and restaurants is not quite as energizing as it once was, and millions of people will never return to a buffet, or a casino, or a casino buffet. Not everyone will feel the same way about all of this, but all of us emerge as different people than we were a year ago.
A minor example: Fully vaccinated and about as safe as I’m going to get, I headed out to one of my favorite restaurants the other day. The building was the same, but all the servers were new, so it was just another place where nobody knows your name. I felt like a stranger in a spot that once felt like home. I’m sure it’s not the last time I’ll experience that sense of deja new.
Many of us will be surprised by what we encounter this spring and summer, but all of this is to be expected because “normal” has a shelf life of zero. Every day’s normal replaces the normal of yesterday and today’s normal will be gone by tomorrow morning. “New normal” is redundant, since every normal is new, and “back to normal” is a destination like Brigadoon. Maybe you’ll see it again a hundred years from now, but don’t count on it.
We think it’s normal to go through scanners at the airport. We think it’s normal to send text messages from phones that we carry in our pockets. We think it’s normal to vilify strangers on social media. And we’re right that all of these things are normal, now, but none of them even existed just a few years ago.
In the end, normal is just another impossible standard we set for ourselves and the world, an unreachable summit and a source of unwarranted disappointment. You can’t step into the same river twice and you cannot go back to the way things were.
The moving finger writes…
The closest we’ll ever get to normal in this world is the steady and predictable delivery of a weekly Dad Writes post, but only if you subscribe by clicking here.
It was the first day of spring and the mercury hadn’t hit 50 degrees yet, but the restaurant wasn’t serving indoors and I needed some pancakes. So I sat outside in my winter coat and absorbed whatever warmth I could from the propane heater near my table, congratulating myself on how tough I’ve become and how well I can cope with dining al freezco.
Then it occurred to me that I’m not really that tough at all. For the people who live under the expressway at North Avenue, this is every meal, every night’s sleep, every new dawn. Braving the cold is a temporary discomfort for me. For them, it’s Tuesday.
As I raced to finish my breakfast before the syrup froze, I became increasingly grateful for the daunting experience of eating outside on a cold day; grateful for my usual good fortune in bypassing what is “normal” for too many others. I was cold and uncomfortable, and I ended up being grateful for both, thankful for the lessons provided by my temporary suffering.
Increasingly, I’m finding, gratitude is most meaningful on the downside. As I’ve mentioned in a prior post, It’s easy to be grateful when things are going well, but the deepest connections come from the setbacks.
During the winter, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in a couple of emergency rooms, an operating room and a hospital bed. The treatments extended over more than two months and there’s no question I would have been happy to avoid it. Still, I ended up grateful for the journey.
I was grateful for access to good medical care, of course, and grateful for the commitment medical workers were making for my safety. I was grateful for the fact this was only a temporary setback that would end at some point, rather than a chronic situation that would accompany me through life. And I was very, very grateful for Medicare, which processed more than $100,000 of medical bills, whittled the total down to $2,600, and left me owing just a few hundred bucks.
Finally, I was grateful for some valuable perspective about the minor nuisances that somehow command a huge portion of my attention, nuisances that disappeared from my awareness when something really serious took control. I was grateful for the opportunity to experience the pain and the discomfort that made me more aware and more pleased about the times when everything is fine.
It takes some work and a definite shift of perspectives to become truly grateful for the crap life can throw at you. Gratitude doesn’t make the bad things good or the hard times pleasant, but it does provide some added meaning to life, a bit of a payoff for the negative experiences. I’m just learning how to do it and the learning curve is far from smooth, but I’m finally starting to reap the benefits of my new education.
For which I am very, very grateful.
And while we’re on the subject, I’d be even more grateful is you’d click here to become a subscriber.
After a full year of this CV Diary, it’s time to take a look at what I’ve learned and the times I slept through the lectures, including…
We’re hoping we won’t be observing a second anniversary of our CV Diary posts, but our subscribers will be the first to know if we do. Just click here to join us and you’ll never miss an update.
We hold these truths to be self-evident:
One of our greatest skills as human beings is the ability to hold both of these views at the same time, often within the same conversation, sometimes within the same sentence. If mental gymnastics was an Olympic event, we’d qualify for Team USA.
In reality, though, each of us is a sample size of one. That makes each of us unique, but it also means none of us is an average Jane. We’re all empowered by and trapped in the circumstances of our lives and our journeys, so we all see things a bit differently.
In my corner of the world, the Coronavirus is real, the state is woefully behind in managing the vaccination rollout, local businesses are suffering along with their landlords, and very few people are arguing about masks. When I’m writing these posts, that state of the world is part of my foundation, even though it might not be a match for a good number of readers.
Many of you live in areas where the economies have stayed open almost nonstop or in places where wearing a mask, or not, is cause for a confrontation. For all of us, our sense of how the pandemic is unfolding will draw more from what we see in our personal lives than from the news. Yes, we’ll read the stories and check out the videos, but the sources we pick and the way we interpret the news will depend heavily on what we, individually, think is the reality.
If we know people who have battled Covid, or lost the war, we’re more likely to take the whole thing very seriously. If we don’t know anyone who has had to deal with the situation, it’s more remote and less threatening. There are tons of exceptions, because each of us brings unique combinations of experience to the conversation, but all of us tend to focus more on our own friends, our own communities, our own challenges.
That’s the crazy part about all our interactions with other people. We think we’re talking to someone else who is like us, but we might be mis-communicating about almost everything. We’re usually aware of it when we’re talking to a doctor or a lawyer or some other specialist whose language is clearly different from our own. The gaps are less obvious when we’re engaged with someone who looks and sounds like us, but brings a whole different set of baggage to the journey.
Sometimes the differences are small enough that they don’t get in the way. Other times, you and your conversation partner are both fluent in English, but you’re speaking a totally different language. We can’t find a way to make our points effectively, because we don’t see the other person’s filters.
Before we can understand someone else, and be understood by them, we need to know a bit about what makes them unique. Otherwise, we’re just talking to ourselves.
As we enter our fourth year of the Dad Writes experiment, we hope you’ll sign up as a subscriber and that you’ll join in the conversation. We know we’ll benefit from your unique perspective.
I know a woman who always thinks she has inside information. We’ve been connected for about two decades and I can’t recall a time when she wasn’t ready to set me straight about whatever misconception I had about the world and its workings. No matter the topic, it seems, she has recently spoken with someone who knows better, a real insider who enlightened her about the truth that’s being hidden from the rest of us.
Almost invariably, her special source seems to be just another Joe; maybe someone in a relevant industry, but not a person we’d expect to have their own hotline to the truth. It might be someone in the financial industry who’s explaining what’s really behind a market move, or it might be a government worker who claims that published data are skewed. Rumors abound in large organizations, so there are undoubtedly conflicting stories floating around at any given time, but she thinks she has an unerring ability to identify the truth that’s hidden in the static.
Usually, she’s wrong, or at least I think she’s wrong because pretty much everyone tells a different story than she’s getting from her “inside source.” The preponderance of evidence against her view doesn’t dissuade her, though. Once a person decides she has found a hidden truth, every contradiction makes it more hidden and, therefore, more truthful.
The strangest thing, to me, is the contrast between her acceptance of unproven claims and the sharp reasoning skills and fact-driven approach she brings to her career and finances. In her career, she is strategic and discerning, but outside of her business she is the easiest of marks.
She’s also more than a bit smug about the whole thing, as if her “inside information” makes her better connected or smarter or more Chosen than I am. Maybe she’s just proud of herself for her ability to follow the rabbit trail back and forth until she reaches the conclusion she was going to reach either way.
I’m a pretty lazy guy, so I don’t have the energy to jump through a dozen hoops to get from one fact to a global conspiracy. My acquaintance, on the other hand, is much more agile and energetic, jumping through multiple hoops on the way to whatever conclusion supports the view she had when she started.
Clearly, we need to implement the One Hoop Rule to bring some sanity back to our conversations. If all you need is a single leap to get to your conclusion, maybe it’s worth considering. If you need to play hopscotch, expect to be ignored. In fact, my new mantra is going to be, “Two hoops. You’re out.” I expect to be repeating it frequently.
Fox Mulder said, “The truth is out there,” which was clearly a coded directive to subscribe to Dad Writes by clicking Out There right here.
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.