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 can’t tell you how excited I am to file my tax return this year, along with all the other PATRIOTS who say the United States is the BEST COUNTRY ever. Tax Day is such a great holiday, an opportunity for all REAL AMERICANS to step up and be counted in the GREATEST DEMOCRACY with the GREATEST CONSTITUTION and the GREATEST PEOPLE. (Well, the greatest people if we exclude you-know-who from that other tribe.)
Frankly, I’m surprised the IRS site doesn’t have a tab to give them a tip when we e-file our payments. I tip the guy who brings me my cheeseburgers, so I should be able to tip the fine folks at the IRS who are handling my contribution to democracy. Maybe next year.
In the meantime, I’m excited to learn that our national government is an even bigger bargain than in the past, thanks to some really key new deductions that are available to selected taxpayers. (Readers will want to check with their own advisors to see if you qualify, of course.) Some of the new deductions are incredibly generous, just what you’d expect from your favorite Uncle, including:
I’m taking advantage of all of these special deductions and it looks like I’ll be getting a big refund from the BEST COUNTRY EVER. Not only am I scheduled to receive of $2,813,938, but my accountant thinks it’s pretty certain that the U.S. government will give me secure housing for the next 15-20 years, or maybe even my entire life.
Is this a great country, or what?
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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…
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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.
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Screw the swallows and the robins and the Easter lilies and all the dog poop that has emerged from the snow bank by the curb. The real proof that spring has sprung is the crack of a bat and the smell of overflowing urinals.
Yes, baseball season is back with the unlimited potential of a Ponzi scheme and all the hope we’ll have abandoned by the ides of August. Welcome to The Show, although the best performances won’t take place on the field.
Now that Ringling Bros. has folded its tent for the last time, the greatest show on earth is in the stands at a baseball game. When it comes to acrobats, daredevils and clowns, nothing really compares…
Cast your eyes on the life of the party, vastly over-served already, as he squeezes through the row while carrying six beers and two plates of nachos. Watch the fans flinching in the row ahead of him—distanced only in theory—as he rubs against their heads with his nether regions and showers them with Budweiser and salsa.
Applaud the veterans of the high-school show choir as they try valiantly to initiate The Wave, even though the stands are empty and the opposing team is at bat.
Marvel at the young couple staring at their cell phones as they live-stream the game and lament that there is no way to view it in 3-D.
Admire the enthusiasm of the fans who stand for the last pitch…for the first batter, and the second batter, and the third batter…while everyone behind them is forced to stand, one row after another, in order to see the damned game.
Share the optimism of noobs who leap to their feet to cheer for a homer, while everyone around them recognizes that it’s only a pop-up to short.
Honor the committed men who buy, and wear, an entire uniform with the number of their favorite player. If the team uses up all its pinch runners and pinch hitters and half the players have suffered from groin pulls, these heroes are all suited up and ready to play. Just in case.
Venerate the incredible faith of young parents who bring their toddlers to the game and expect them to just sit and watch for three hours. (Yeah, we know it works all the time with Frozen.)
Soak in the sagacity of the drunk old guy in the next row, the one with three chins and two teeth, as he explains the best strategy for winning the game. (Hint: It has to do with getting more runs than the other team.)
Respect the kidneys of the frat boys in line at the men’s room as they free up space for the three beers they just bought at last call.
Support law enforcement by cheering for the brave ushers who prevent fans from sneaking into the box seats…even though it’s the bottom of the eighth and there are only 300 people in the stadium.
Yes, the game itself is a four-minute chase scene inside a three-hour movie, but there’s non-stop thrills and giggles just off the field. Sometimes it pays to think outside the batter’s box.
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I think I’ll cancel my plans for April 1, but maybe I can schedule a really great dinner, as I shift my calendar yet again…
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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.