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oz gate guard

The 2018 Commencement Address at Emerald University

It is with dubious distinction that I stand here before the Emerald University Class of 2018. I say dubious because last year’s commencement speaker, the Wicked Witch of the West, and the recipient of an honorary doctorate, was stripped of her honorary degree because she ran afoul by misusing her power.  I found it a bit disingenuous that while the university took back her honorary doctorate, they did not return a single penny of the mega bucks she donated to said same university.

In that regard I have  nothing to fear because I have no intention of donating a single Oz buck to this university.

I stand before you a humble man. I say this in gest because I am not the least bit humble. I take pride in being proud. I don’t intend to fill the already hot air with worthless platitudes. Rather, I want to talk to you honestly in a straight-forward manner.

As you all know, or as you all should know, the Wizard of Oz was nothing but a humbug. A man who invented false news. No sooner had he landed in Oz, he began building the walled city of Oz.  And because he was so intent on keeping out what he called the un-documented, aka the “Undudes,” he hired me to stand guard at the only entry point to the Emerald City.

For years I turned back more people than you can imagine. And then I began to wonder what filled the poet, Robert Frost’s’ mind when he wrote  “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out.”

Before I lapse into a political polemic about walls, I want to steer the conversation in a different direction. I want to talk about the wall that separates the splendid garden of learning and the world you will be stepping into after you cross the stage with your diploma in hand.

When Dorothy and her three friends, and Toto, too, stopped by at the gate to Emerald City, you’ll recall that they rang the bell. When I answered the door I confused the matter by telling them the bell was out of order and that they should have knocked on the door as directed by the sign that wasn’t there.

I had no intention of letting them in to see the Wizard until Dorothy told me she was sent by the Good Witch and as proof she showed me the slippers she was wearing.  I had no choice but to let her in.

You are like Dorothy and her traveling companions. You not only knock on the door because you were instructed by a legion of  Good Witches. You have been instructed by dozens of men and woman who were eager to share their learning with you. And not only were these people you called “professors,” your Good Witches, first among your Good Witches were your parents, family, mentors, community and friends.

Today you stand before the grantors of degrees wearing metaphorical ruby slippers, a symbol of your status as a college graduate. You stand knocking on the door and I say “welcome.”  I would also like to suggest that you don’t go looking for the Wizard of Oz, because as I said earlier, he is a humbug.  I also suggest that while your entry-level job was your four-year goal, don’t think of your career as your final destination because I am here to tell you that as you cross over the portal into the “real world,” you are about to step foot on another long and winding yellow brick road.

Make sure you take your yellow brick road and not someone else’s because if you do your life will never be as full as it should have been if you follow your own yellow brick road.

Follow it, follow it, follow it, and when you do come to one of the many crossroads on the yellow brick road that you will undoubtedly encounter, listen to your head, heed your heart and have the courage to make a decision.

I officially open the door to Oz for you.  Welcome. Enjoy the journey of your life time!

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ybr at college

*FLI – First generation low-income (refers to a particular college demographic.)

I refrain from using my blog to comment on current items in the news, but I wish to use my “pass”card and offer a reflection on a segment on 60 Minutes (Sunday, April 29, 2018)…a show I’ve been watching for almost as long as its been on the air.

While the episode gave proper credit to Bill and Melinda Gates for all they’ve done to make college a possibility for so many deserving students, the aspect of the show I want to focus on had to do with that part of the segment on the efforts Princeton University has been making on widening the definition of a diverse student body by including FLIs.

Princeton on 60 Minutes

Princeton’s President Christopher L. Eisgruber did not hesitate to agree with 60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley that Princeton has earned what might be called an elitist identity.  For most of its existence Princeton (founded in 1746) educated young men who were white, wealthy and well-connected. But of late (at least for the last 20 or so years) Eisgruber believes it is important to offer a quality Princeton education to a more diverse group of students, with a new emphasis on low-income students.

I say “good for you Princeton because many students who have the grades and desire to walk on your yellow brick road can’t because they lack the money and the necessary connections to be admitted.”

I was cheered by the comments made by the FLI students represented on the 60 Minutes segment.  But as cheered as I was by that, I was confused when Eisgruber admitted that included in the 97% of the students who applied but weren’t “accepted,” were students that deserved to be accepted but weren’t so there could be room for the equally deserving FLI students.

That makes sense…but then again it doesn’t. At the risk of saying something that might be considered politically incorrect, the logic smacks of discrimination. (Can you discriminate against the wealthy class?)

It seems to me we are now closing the yellow brick road to people just because they aren’t “deserving.”

For argument’s sake let’s say that the FLI students at Princeton graduate with honors and have successful careers…and that as many of them want to, they become very wealthy.  And then let’s imagine they have children who want to go to Princeton.  Funny, but they would not be the FLI students that their parents were.  It is very possible that despite their stellar high school grades and accomplishments they would not be admitted to Princeton.

Very possibly the children of this generations FLI students would have to make room on Princeton’s YBR for another generation of FLI students.

That America has not always lived up to its belief it is a land of opportunity cannot be challenged.  We have more often than not been a land of opportunity for a very limited and exclusive group of people. But, in our effort to make up for lost time, I believe we are either consciously or unconsciously keeping people off the YBR just because they fit a certain category that we have labeled as “privileged.”

We are a nation of stereotypes and in an effort to turn things around I have this feeling we are penalizing people just because…just because they are like Lain Hardy a contestant on American Idol (2018) who was sent packing in Hollywood.

lainehardy

Laine Hardy might have been justifiably booted, but I believe because he had the boyish looks and charm of what we think as an American Idol he was handicapped.  In our effort to break the mold of who is deserving and who is not, we might be going too far.  Laine “looks” like a kid who never faced a single adversity in his life.  His story doesn’t include a chapter marked with struggle.  And lately that seems to be what is selling on reality/talent shows.

Hey, I give kudos to anyone who has turned diversity on its head, but…are we keeping some people off the YBR…just because?

 

 

 

hedges

The house my family and I have been living in since 1983 was built in 1967, so I imagine that the hedge that separates my property from that of my neighbor was planted some 50 years ago.

Let me cut to the chase.  The hedge has become an evil monster. It is about 12 to 14 feet high and wider than hell.  Early on I did my best to trim it, but despite my best of intentions, the hedge took over.

This winter, with one heavy snow after another, the branches of the hedge collapsed under the weight of the fluffy white stuff, so much so that something had to be done before the hedges swallowed up what was left of that part of my property.

I have no one to blame for the overgrown hedges but myself.  I can’t blame Mother Nature because I let the hedges get out of hand. That’s why I’ve spent a good number of hours trimming the hedges that I’ve grown to hate.

I believe hedges are those parts of our personality that we ignore thinking they either won’t be noticed or they’ll take care of themselves.  It doesn’t happen. Hedges like those cloying aspects of our personalities need to be trimmed.  Attention has to be paid to them or they will take over.

How can you follow the Yellow Brick Road if it is overgrown with untrimmed hedges? You can’t.

With every clip I take and with every thick branch I saw off, I feel a weight being lifted.  Progress is being made. I believe that when the job is done I will be more than pleased.

Now all I have to do is not allow those damn hedges to take over. I need to be in charge.

blind spot four

Have blind spots gone the way of rotary dial phones, cursive writing, and handwritten notes?  While many of those things that were part of our lives are no longer in use or no longer necessary…despite our fondness for things we once held near and dear, we have not eliminated blind spots.

That doesn’t mean we try to live our lives as if blind spots don’t exist because that’s far from the truth. In truth, we try to live our lives by denying that blind spots ever existed.

We don’t want to face the fact that we are all blind to certain things in our lives on the YBR.  We only want to get to the Emerald City. We don’t want to be mindful that there are things in our blind spot that impact the way we drive.

If you’ve ever tried to move over the left land on a highway and either hear a horn blasting you from behind or in the last second you finally see that car in your blind spot, you realize how it can scare the shit out of you.

When your heart stops racing you wonder how you forgot to take into account that there might have been a vehicle in your blind spot.

Many of us try to step on the accelerator to get ahead of those pesky shortcomings in our blind spot. We fail to realize that no matter how fast we drive ourselves those shortcomings will always be there unless we face them.

Sometimes getting spooked by something in our blind spot helps us face reality…something we often don’t want to face. It takes a lot of courage to do that.

words

Maybe you’ve never played “Words with Friends,” the internet crossword game, but certainly you’ve played “Scrabble” the famous board game.  Both games are the same. Both games are different in some very different ways.  After playing a word in “Words with Friends,” you are given the option to check out the “better” word you could have played.

In my case I played the word “doc” for 21 points.  But had I known, I could have played ALL MY LETTERS on a TRIPLE WORD (TW) square for 88 points! I could have gotten four times the number of points if only I had…

If only I had what?  If I had only scrutinized the board a little more.  If only I had taken a closer look at my letters.  Well, you know something, that’s exactly how it is on the YBR.  We consider what we have and we make a decision. Sometimes we learn that we didn’t make the best move we could have.

That happens a lot. Sometimes we never know we could have made a better move. And when that happens we are none the wiser. We don’t stop to beat ourselves up.  But when we do learn we could have made a different (and better) move we do beat ourselves up.

On our daily walk on the YBR we make dozens of moves. If by chance we learn we could have…which translates to “we should have” made another move, we often go over the move we made and the move we should have made in our head ad infinitum.  This never helps because we take the move we should have made and believe the rest of our journey would have been so much better than the road we find ourselves on.

Let me tell you something. That’s a lot of bullshit. The moves we didn’t take always seem better because we don’t have to take the next move.  But once we’ve made a real move we will make other moves…and who knows, maybe the next real move we make on the YBR just might be the right move.

starry-sky-4

Of late I’ve been confused. Or to put it more accurately, of late I’ve been more confused. You would think at three score ten confusion would be a thing of the distant past. But in my case, it’s not the case.

I don’t know how it popped into my head. It just did. I got to thinking about the words on a popular poster from my college days: Wherever You Go, There You Are.  Since this poster usually hung in the rooms of those students who were inclined to smoke weed, I thought maybe you couldn’t understand the true meaning of the quote unless you were high. And since my inhalation of the substance did nothing to me or for me, I never got the meaning until I went abroad in my junior year at college

That’s when I had the first of many “aha moments.”  Having never been alone and on my own ever before, the withdrawal that occurs for the first time allows you to experience what it means to be alone and on your own.  That’s when I saw the light and understood what Wherever You Go, There You Are meant.

Until I was alone and on my own, I didn’t know who I was (the you in the quote). It took me my entire stay at Oxford to discover who I was, and once I did, I realized that despite the fact that I had previously used other people’s definition of who I was, I had the right…and the obligation…to define myself on my own terms.  If I wanted to be genuine I couldn’t use anyone else’s definition.

Returning home after an amazing study abroad experience, I fully understood that no matter where I was to ever go, “I” would be there.  I also learned something else.  I did not have to remain set in stone. I did not have to be held prisoner to the “I”  I had become because I could change and I could grow.

That got me thinking about how we become “I” and what ingredients go in to making us the “I” we become. I did some research and learned that psychologist say that by age seven our personalities are basically fully formed.  I also learned that by the same age much of our wiring (the way we think about things, what we believe in, etc.) is almost hard-wired.

I used to believe that education was supposed to allow us the opportunity to work on our wiring.  Higher education was supposed to provide us with the tools and the environment to really work on our wiring.

I have my doubts.  Even when I was in college I don’t believe “we” were encouraged to think and to grow into a more open-minded “I.”  Thinkers are a danger to society because thinkers think, of course, but thinking involves challenging the status quo.

Having now been teaching in a college for close to 15 years, I am concerned. Today’s students are arguably good students, but they have been hoodwinked into believing that the purpose of a college education is to prepare them for a career…not for life. Today’s career-minded college students are so very focused on getting “that” job that they don’t see anything else. Instead of “going” to college, I believe many students have been sentenced to spend four years at college doing “hard” labor, i.e. taking a bunch of course they could give a rat’s ass about.  Once released from college they will be on probation for the rest of their lives because all that will be important to them will be climbing the ladder. Where is the growth?

livelobster

It reminds me of the lobster. I had no idea how a lobster got grew. Then I learned something.  The lobster’s shell is hard and not elastic. In order for a lobster to grow it has to shed its shell. It actually has to get out of its shell and grow a new shell.  And in order to continue growing, it needs to go through this process over and over again…until it’s plopped in a pot of boiling water and served with butter, lemon and a side of fries.

I wonder if today’s college students are willing to shed their shells?  I wonder if wherever they go they will be there.

NOTE:  If any students in my spring 2018 COM 102 class responds to this blog by 5 pm. Friday, March 2, they will earn a bonus.

You have to climb the damn tree!

out on a limb

That’s right…and there’s no two ways about it. Unfortunately today we have been so hoodwinked by people in power that we believe that you shouldn’t climb trees, primarily because you actually might think for yourself. And if you do have the courage to climb the tree…and you actually believe the tree is worth climbing…the best thing you can do, in my opinion, is go out on a limb.  Take a stand and have the courage of your convictions.

Might you fall?  More likely than not there is a very, very, very good chance you might fall down. Mind you I said “might fall down” not “will fall down.”

Because we live in world of non-stop news there are so many goddamn trees in the forest, that it is overwhelming.

Just last week there was another tragic school shooting that took the lives of 17 innocent people.  There are not enough words in every language combined to say anything that might make some sense out of the senseless.

Following the shooting a million of Giant Redwoods sprang up all over America.  I’m certain one or more of them is in you own backyard. This tree is called, like so many other trees in the forest of bewilderment, the tree of opinion.  While we ALL might agree that the loss of life is so very tragic, we don’t all agree on what we can do or needs to be done so this particular tree never grows up again on the YBR.

Some argue that a school shooting tree won’t ever grow again if we:
1) Get rid of all the guns in America
2) Ban any type of assault weapon
3) Dismantle the NRA
4) Raise the age of gun ownership to 21
5) Make gun ownership applications much more detailed and quintuple-checked
6) Prevent anyone with a prior record or anyone with a certified mental illness from buying a gun
7) Put guns in the hands of trained and qualified educators
8) Place at least one armed officer in every school
9) Build walls around all our schools
10) Placing a 2000% tak on any weapon and limiting the number of bullets a gun owner can buy…and raise the price of a bullet to $3648.92.

Number ten was my addition and I added it to cover all the ridiculous suggestions people are making.  Number 1 through 9 are not ridiculous, but none of them win unanimous approval.

I have no suggestions other than we do need to find a way to make our schools and everywhere for that matter…safe.  Our children should never, ever have to worry about their safety in school. No teacher or educator should ever have to worry that this might be the day a school shooter comes into our school. And no parent should ever, ever, ever have to think for a second that when they kiss their child good-bye for school that it might be the last time they kiss their child.

Some argue that a school shooting tree won’t ever grow again if we:
1) Spend more money and time on dealing with mental illness
2) Find ways to identify possible school shooters before they do the unthinkable by being much more observant and looking for the signs
3) Train people in law enforcement to take warnings more seriously and by looking into what people are saying after seeing.
4) Institutionalize those who have been identified as individuals who represent a threat to themselves and/or others

It will take  greater minds than my simple mind to come up with a real, permanent solution because the problem with guns is only a (big) part of it…not the whole.

.But, now that I’ve climbed the school shooting tragic tree, I’m going to go out on a limb.

While there is no way in hell that I can find a smidgen of a reason to condone the school shooting. And if I’m saying that, I have to take the next step, and say that I cannot find any reasonable excuse why the shooter did what he did.

I said “excuse.”  There is no excuse, (I’m not out on the limb, so don’t start shaking the branch.)

Would I be too far out on the limb if I introduced the idea of finding the reason why the shooter did what he did?

Having listened to some credible talk show hosts…and their callers… condemn the shooter by saying he should be roasted alive on national television, should be executed asap, should be sent to a jail where the other prisoners were given the green light to beat the shit out of the shooter, and other such punishments courtesy of the Dark Ages…

I have the heard the word “crazy” thrown around this past week more than I’ve ever heard this “dangerous” word used in a long, long time.

To say the shooter was crazy, sick, the devil incarnate, etc.  is not going to bring back any of the lives lost.  To say that he gave more than ample warning signs that were ignored, is another story altogether.  “We” dropped the ball on that one.

But, it’s easier to shift the light of blame on the shooter, who, without a doubt performed a heinous act.

I heard some talk show hosts say that there are thousands of people in America who had similar mental issues and family situations…even the death of parents…but they did not go pout and buy an assault rifle and shoot up a school.  And I’d have to agree with them.  God knows how many people out there matched the Florida school shooter’s profile but did not gun down innocent people.

But, I think we are masking our doubts with rage. It is better, I fear many believe, to kill the monster and hang him from the highest tree, without thinking he could have been my son, my grandson, my brother, my cousin, my nephew, my best friend’s son, a kid in my class…or even me.

According to the 2010 Federal Census Bureau, there were some 30 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 and 53 million between the ages of 5 and 17.  So, if we combine those age groups, it might be safe to say that in 2010 there were 37-40 million people between the ages of 15 and 24, the age of what might be called the “target” school shooter.

One percent of 38 million is 380,000. Half a percent is !90,00. A quarter percent is 95,000.  And .1% is 38,000.  Taken one more time, .01 percent of 38 million is 3,800. (For fractional people, that’s 1/1000. Small in comparison to 1/100 or one percent, but consider how many people in that same age group suffer from some form of mental illness?

Check these facts to see the whole picture

Sorting through the numbers I think it’s safe to say that 10% of our 38 million (14-24) suffer from some form of mental illness…or by the numbers that would be 3.8 million.

Let’s then say that 99.9% of those 3.8 million would never, ever pick up a gun and go on a school shooting rampage.  That leaves 3,800 (or .1%) who might consider it…and a mere 1% 3,800 you with 38.

38 people spread out over the breadth and width of America makes them virtually invisible. No one should ever be invisible!

I worked with some of these invisibles when I was in college where I used to go up to Hillcrest Academy (Poughkeepsie, NY) before Geraldo Rivera did an amazing job by exposing the horrors at Willowbrook.

I can’t tell you how many children were institutionalized at Hillcrest, but in the boys section with children between the ages of three and ten there must have been at least 20 boys. Boys who were dropped off at Hillcrest with many of them never to see family again.

We cannot, I repeat, ever go back to the age of Hillcrest.

Where am I on the limb?  I think we need to take a hard look at mental illness in our country and remove all the use of words like crazy and stop saying what one person with mental illness would or would not do.

The Florida shooter was 19. Not a little kid. But he was a kid once upon a time.  Did he fall through the cracks?  Was he physically not lovable enough?  Did he grow up invisible?  Was there ever a time in his life when he could have been thrown a life raft?

Last year the Federal Government spent some 54 million dollars in an anti-smoking campaign.  As much as I want to wipe out smoking (how about banning the product…there is no Constitutional Amendment protecting our right to smoke) imagine in half of  what the government spends on anti-smoking went to helping the mentally ill.

Okay, you can now begin shaking the limb.