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BRAD CLEMONS: Advice for the recent graduates

Monday, May 23, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 5:06 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 1, 2011

First of all, kudos for the optimism. It’s quite a miracle, considering what a disappointment you know you have been.

I don’t mean that you have done anything especially wrong — just that the expectations were too high. Just like every other expectant couple, your parents believed you would be one who was to bring back balance in "The Force", and, although the movie is not over yet, to your parents it’s not looking good for the home team.

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Again, this is not your fault. You were likely born after your parents first had a dog, so immediately you were a genius once you were housebroken and started talking. For a while, each milestone was confirmation.

“Honey, come quick. He’s a genius. I just told him to sit, and he’s sitting.”

“Sweetie, it’s because he can’t walk.”

“Well, not yet, but at this pace …”

One of the side effects of pregnancy is the temporary loss of cognitive ability. Somehow, your parents believed that you received the good genes from each partner but not the bad ones. Later, each parent believed that, although there seemed to be some bad genes, at least they only came from the other side of the family gene pool, and thankfully, you would still be superior to every other child.

Another side effect is hallucination, which is why your parents heard your first 30 words before anyone else could. That is also why they could watch you hit a friend with a plastic hammer and suddenly see inside your body. “But he has a good heart.”

However, things changed. You started learning habits, ideas and words from other people — nefarious others like uncles and inferior pirate children the state was forced to educate with you under the careless theory that all people are created equal when, to your parents, that was obviously untrue.

Somewhere in the middle of your development, your parents started innocently saying things like, “Honey, do you think other children put tape on the cat just to watch it crawl under an imaginary object? I was watching this documentary on serial killers, and it said cruelty to animals is an early trait of serial killers.”

At first they were in denial due to their own blindness. “He’s just going through a phase,” or “Boys will be boys, right?” Then they were concerned. Each mistake you made was potential dirt for the news media to exploit in your presidential campaign. Then, finally, panic set in. “Why can’t you be more like Brianna?” “Please don’t turn out like your uncle!”

The tension arises from perspective. You likely see yourself optimistically, as the protagonist in a mystery novel, anticipating the inevitable happy ending. Parents see you as the protagonist in a choose-your-own-adventure suspense novel, in which they have already read every possible path, and they nervously and helplessly dread your every decision. Most people see you like the focus of an A&E "Biography" and curiously wait to see how you react to personal calamity.

Even teachers seem to have turned against you. In elementary school, teachers seemed to be there because they love kids. In junior high and high school, teachers seemed to love their content and see you pessimistically, as a carrier pigeon of last resort.

You turned to the world, and it, too, seemed to look at you with disdain. Oh, people liked you in a weird and detached way, but they really saw you like they see all teenagers: as wild animals.

Think about it. The adult vision for the educational process is not unlike a circus. Children, like beasts, are captured by authorities at a very young age and brought to professional trainers — or teachers. Adults, freed and domesticated animals, fear their wild cousins, so though they want the beasts treated well, they also want the beasts well-trained. They try to justify their actions by saying that unruly animals could not survive on their own. Although they are right, truth is, the domesticated can no longer safely return to the wild and, therefore, seek to eliminate the wild.

As it is, adults prefer to see teenagers, like animals, only in entertainment settings — sporting events and theater and musical performances. These tourists can pay $4 at the gate and watch the show in an arena controlled by a ringmaster, called a coach or director, who is supposed to be firm yet flashy.

Even in classroom-shaped cages, guardian onlookers are not allowed to feed the wild animals or tap on the glass. At scheduled times — with a visitor’s pass, of course — parents are brought in to see projects and to pat the heads of the animals as part of the training through positive reinforcement. That was you.

So here you are. You are exhausted with trying to do things the way everyone else prescribes. Of course. It’s exhausting to obey irrational, contradictory information.

Here’s my advice: Be very, very irritating. You are off to a great start, but you are going about it all wrong.

Doubters expect you to crash and make them feel better about themselves. I challenge you to be wise. Skeptics see you coming home from college with your tail between your legs and curling up on your parents’ couch and eating their milk and cookies. I challenge you to be too proud and stubborn to give up. Yet, ironically, when haters see you as an arrogant, MacBook-and-latte yuppie, I challenge you to be humble and generous.

When those who love you most want you to be an engineer when you want to be a pilot, go ahead and make them nervous. Sometimes parents are so blinded by love that they can’t see that your satisfaction is more important than your safety. You can honor your father and mother without doing everything they suggest. Granted, nine times out of 10 they are right and you are wrong but still, you are the one who has to go to work every day.

Be patient with them. They are just going through a phase.

So I have already told you more than I know. It’s just that most people perceive themselves as whatever image the world reflects. Some people have great wisdom, and once you have removed the opinions borne from bias or jealousy, you should sear as much of it into your soul as you can, but those people are not prophets.

Truth is — you are writing an autobiography.

Brad Clemons lives in Columbia and offers advice so priceless it can only be given away … apparently.


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