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witch

The annual commencement speech at the University of Oz was delivered by the Wicked Witch of the West, her sister unable to attend the ceremony because she was bogged down with housework.

Good afternoon graduates. While it is customary to be warmly embraced by your commencement speaker, it is not in my purview to offer you hollow plaudits and pleasant platitudes. I will not coddle you, I will not play nice-nice with you, and I will most definitely not bull shit you.  You have a legitimate reason to celebrate because you did finish what you started out to do when you graduated from high school. That’s more than the close to 50% of college bound students can say who didn’t pass the finish line. But don’t get a swelled head. Across the fruited plains of America two million undergraduate degrees are being awarded.  Mathematically that means you are not even one in a million.

Economic statisticians love to point out that college graduates have a much higher life-time earning potential than non-graduates. Big deal. So you spent about $200,000 to get where you are today.  It will take you a decade to break even with your non-graduate contemporaries’ earnings. Imagine what you could have done with that $200,000.  Instead of earning 15 credits studying abroad for a semester, you could have actually lived abroad for four years and come away with a lifetime of valuable experiences.  You could have invested your $200,000 and bought a nice car with the interest.

But for the moment let’s forget about earning potential and let’s focus on what happened to you after four years on the Yellow Brick Road. What did you really learn? What did you really learn here in these hallowed halls and rolling hills that you couldn’t have learned somewhere else? How many hours did you spend in class and working on papers and projects that were wasted hours?  If your four years of college were an orange, how much juice would you have actually squeezed out?

If we were to be really honest you would know that it wasn’t the courses you took in college that made all the difference, but it was the course you set to navigate the waters of higher education. If you didn’t set a course, all the credit courses you took were for naught. But don’t think for a moment that your course had to be a rigid one because many a boat has been dashed upon the rocks because the navigator failed to trim the sails or let them fly when necessary.

Graduation is not a final destination. It’s a port. If you got the most out of your education you will see the open seas and be overwhelmed about all the opportunities that await you.

Please don’t think for a moment that your diploma is equipped with a GPS. Your diploma is like a driver’s license. And if you can remember the day you passed your road test you had no problem saying you still had a lot to learn.

Sometime in the next week or so, check your parents’ odometer and see how many miles they’ve journeyed on the Yellow Brick Road and ask them what they’ve learned in all the years they’ve been driving.

It is totally out of character for me to say anything that is not a tad wicked, but I will break character today and say this. You life is what you make of it and if I can offer you a suggestion, your life will be full of meaning if you take full responsibility for your actions, your motives and your decisions. You will never have full control of what happens to you in life, but you can retain control over how you deal with what life throws at you. So don’t spend your life blaming others.

Formal education eventually comes to an end, but learning does last a lifetime…if you choose a lifetime of learning.

Now get out of here before I turn you into a Munchkin.

 

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untitled

For a moment forget about the wonderful Wizard of Oz movie. As good as it is, Hollywood failed to understand some of the finer nuisances that can only be found in the book.  There were no farm hands, no Elvira Gulch, and no Professor Marvel. What was left?  Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, Dorothy…and Toto, too.

Who can forget Dorothy running away from home to find happiness over the rainbow only to abandon her plan to return home where a cyclone propelled her on her fantastic  journey.

It’s different in the book. It took only 600 words to set the story to send Dorothy up, up and away. Author L. Frank Baum used the word “gray” ten times in those 600 words. He not only described Dorothy’s home and landscapes as gray, but he used the same word to paint a picture of Em and Henry.

In the book Dorothy had no reason to run away. She was not a misunderstood little girl. But she did have a longing for a place over the rainbow.

“It was Toto that made Dorothy laugh, and saved her from growing as gray as her surroundings.”

And therein we learn why Dorothy was longing for something to happen. She was deathly afraid of turning gray like Em and Henry. Deep down inside she understood how easy it was to lose your color and turn grey.

overwhelmed by what her future was going to be like, a cyclone struck…and nothing was ever going to be the same.

We don’t have to wait for a cyclone to help us avoid or escape becoming gray. We have options. We have opportunities. But many of us prefer to stay grey because it’s so safe.

Having had the opportunity to teach college students for more than a dozen years I have observed, first hand, the future. The close to 1000+ students I have had in my classes were all solidly nice “kids.”  But they were in danger of becoming gray, and not because they wanted to become gray, but because many of them didn’t know they had a choice.

By and large they were all good students in high school. And by good I don’t only mean they had good grades, they were well-behaved, polite, and focused on the role they would play in the greater marketplace. From early on in their education they either knew or their parents knew, what they needed to do to “succeed.” They learned that it was far better to play it according to the rules than to take risks. When they colored, they stayed inside the lines.  And over time they only had one colored crayon.

gray crayons

What do these students need? A cyclone. They need something to send them on a journey. They need to step out of their comfort zone. They can do this by choosing to study abroad, by taking a lead role in a campus activity, by being selfless and going out into the community and volunteering, by shedding old prejudices and embracing people not like them, by being exposed to new ideas, and by standing up for what is right.

We don’t need to go to Oz, because in the book Dorothy was glad to be home, and home is where can not only bring color into our own lives, we can bring color into the lives of others.

painters-palette

 

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hell two

What a hell of a week it was here on Mother Earth. There’s growing evidence that the co-pilot of a reputable airline deliberately crashed the plane into the French Alps killing all aboard.  Boko Haram militants kidnapped more than 500 women and children in Nigeria. A jury is considering the case against the Boston Marathon bomber.  Isis troops continue to terrorize the Middle East.  A fraternity’s video of a racially insensitive and inappropriate “sing-along” goes viral.  Locally (Orange County, NY) a school district’s language week Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic ignites a national debate on what it means to be an American and what is considered un-American. And did I mention a few elected officials around the country were either arrested or charged with a laundry list of crimes.

While the last item doesn’t cause many of us to lose any sleep, the other events should definitely keep us awake at night.  Are we going to hell in a hand basket or is it human life as usual?  From my limited perspective and sense of history I fear that it is all more of the same.  We’ve been going to hell in a hand basket  for hundreds of thousands of years.  Take any period in history and you’ll see that we’ve f*^**ed at every turn.

If we haven’t been slaughtering one another over a piece of land, we’ve been killing us because of different religious beliefs, different political philosophies and mainly because one group has what another group wants.

We might be living in the chronological 21st Century, but all across the globe there are people living physically, emotionally and mentally in the 6th, 11th, 15th and 19th centuries.  Even here in techno-America we have people who use the latest forms of modern technology only to have an 18th century mindset when it comes to views on gender, race and religion.

For the purpose of this post let’s take a look at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (Oklahoma University) racial chant.  Not that such a chant would or should have ever been tolerated, but would we agree that if the chant had been chanted 100 years ago it would not have raised as many worried eyebrows than as it does today?

What we tolerated in the past often comes back to haunt us…as it should. Our past blunders should not be swept under the carpet. We all need to come face-to-face with our prejudices and realize that what we once thought of as “acceptable” was wrong, wrong, wrong.

But here’s the problem. We never seem to be on the same page at the same time when it comes to pressing issues.  Our racial prejudices run deep. I am embarrassed to admit how insensitive my own father was with some of the things he said, despite the fact that he was “relatively” open-minded…sometimes.

I don’t remember where I read it, but I was impressed by an article that talked about how we are well-wired by the time we are seven or eight. The author meant that most of our belief systems are wired and that wiring system often impacts what and how we think as adults. And this despite the fact that by the time we are adults we are supposed to be better educated.

Words that were commonplace when I was growing up were racially, theologically and socially insensitive. Even generally accepted terms for people….African-Americans were called “colored People” when I was very young. Today, such a term would label the user a racist…as it should.

So what do we do?  Do we throw up our hands and say there’s nothing we can do? Or do we subscribe to the butterfly effect? And by that I mean we hope that every little thing we say and every act we make an impact because we believe it will spread.

If it’s true that we are going to hell in a hand basket, the worst  thing we can do is waste our time making fire-retardant baskets because we’re still be going to hell. The only way we can change our course is to root out ignorance and that will only happen if each of us stands up and speaks out against any and all forms of intolerance and injustice.

hell one

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brains

May you think more deeply, more objectively and in particular….more openly,because there’s
nothing worse than a mind closed to new ideas and new ways of thinking.

tin man

May you learn the real meaning of love and understand that
a heart is not measured by how much you love, but how much you are loved…and
to be loved you have to be willing to have your heart broken.

The-cowardly-lion-the-wizard-of-oz-4109278-550-412

May you have the courage not only to stand up for what is wrong,
but the courage to speak up and out about what is right. Remember, it’s
a lot easier to swim up-stream with the masses, than it is to
paddle down stream…alone.

wizard commencement

May you learn to see your gifts and learn to use them
for a greater good.

1536_GlindaGoodWitch75yrs_56

You’ve always had the power inside you. There’s no app for that.

Dorothy_Gale_smiling_kindly

Always remember: There IS no place like home!

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two points

There is one mathematical rule that made a lasting impression on me: The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. In a mathematical realm there is no getting around this basic truth. However, in life, this straightforward (poor pun intended) rule does not, nor should it apply.

In reality, point A is our arbitrary birth and point B is our inevitable death. Between these two points is that simple thing we call “life.” While many of us cling to the idea that there is a way of getting from point A to point B in as straight a line as possible, anyone over the age of logic and reason will tell you flat out that there is no shortest distance between these two points.

Dorothy’s journey from the land of the Munchkins to Emerald City followed a yellow brick road that was anything but straight. Had it been straight I don’t believe Dorothy’s journey would have been as life-changing and fulfilling as it was.

Despite the fact that we like to believe that all of us are created equal, the truth is that although we might be entitled to the benefits of equality (i.e. life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) we are not born equal.  Some are born without advantages and some are born with them. When we are born, where we are born, to whom we are born, etc. influence our journey from point A to point B.  However, as we all know, not everybody born with advantages have a straighter line than those born without advantages.

While our life’s journey is a straight forward affair, the path is not.  Every decision we make, as well as every choice we refuse to take, adds the curves to our YBR. Choosing a mate, finding and making friends, welcoming new children into our family, bidding farewell to older loved ones, making  our way in the workplace, dealing with boons and busts, and confronting our own mortality turn the straight and narrow into, well, our path.

Too often we fall victim of comparing our life’s journey with other people’s  and “believe” that their journey’s are so “uncomplicated.”  Not the case…and never the case.  First of all, we should never compare paths. It only leads to discouragement.

That does not mean we should not take a hard look at our path.  Perhaps it is not going in the direction we thought it would take. If we want or need to alter our course (for the better) we need to do everything possible to make it happen.  If we’ve made or continue to make the same mistakes, we can never expect to get off the “circle.”  If we have to make some serious adjustments, we need to  make them because point B is always going to be point B.

My fear is that the current generation believes there is only one path between points A and B.  They fail to see that a career is only a section of the road; it is not the final destination.

A good exercise is to ask yourself “how did I get here?” (The here in this case the point on the road you find yourself at the moment.)  Since you don’t have to share your answer, you can be brutally honest.  Map out all the steps of your journey and be sure to include the decisions made for you by others (either when you were too young to make decisions when you left the decision-making to someone else.)

Look at your map. Embrace the good decisions and take responsibility for all the bad ones.  If you see a pattern and realize how many cul de sacs you’ve been in, then do something about it. We might be part of the “human race,” but life is not the hundred yard dash, it is a marathon of our own. Ultimately, how well we do when we cross the finish line is up to us.

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Fork in road

Whoopi Goldberg, the host of ABC’s “The View,” opened today’s show (10/10/2014) by making a simple, straightforward statement. Since I never intended on quoting her, I can only hope my capsule summary of her opening remarks retains the spirit of her actual words: We have hundreds of good cops all across the country doing a good job. But there seem to be some cops who are not doing a good job.

Whoopi went on to explain that there have been a number of videos catching bad cops in action and that these cops are making it bad for good cops.

Whoopi Goldberg is one of the few celebrities who makes a concerted effort to be “fair and balanced.”  She has some strong opinions, but she always expresses them in a way that you can see where she is coming from.  Unlike the Wizard of Oz who was ultimately unmasked , Whoopi would, in my opinion, make a good Wizard of Oz.

If I could have a conversation with Whoopi, I would hasten to bring up a point we sometimes forget as we approach a forked road on the YBR.

There is no denying that bad cops are making big, bad headlines. Not only that, but their antics are being broadcast on television and uploaded to YouTube. Though only a small percentage of cops ever make the headlines, they are creating a tsunami of sorts that is racial by nature…and perhaps, design.

Whoopi’s remarks and the view-versation that followed reminded me of the Tolstoy line in Anna Karenina:  “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Now, you might be wondering, what does that quote have to do with Whoopi’s remark about good cops/bad cops.

Now, you might be wondering, what does that quote have to do with Whoopi’s remark about good cops/bad cops. Think about it this way: All good cops are alike; each bad cop is bad in his/her own way.

To make it more relevant, think about this.  When you pick up a newspaper, go to your favorite internet site for news, turn on the radio, or catch the broadcast news and what do you find?  If there was an accident, there will be a story about it.  But will there be any stories about the drivers who didn’t have an accident? If a cat gets stuck in a tree and is helped down, the story will find its way into print. If the cat got down on his own power…you’ll never read about it.

Get my point?  Bad news sells. Good news, doesn’t.  On the same day that one bad cop somewhere out there takes the law into his own hands, there are hundreds of cops stopping crimes, making legal arrests….and in short, protecting us by doing what they swore they would do when they became cops.

Unfortunately, good cop stories rarely, if ever, make headlines.

Bottom line: Bad cops make good copy. Good cops make pr, and we all hate pr because it’s so contrived.

So, when a really bad cop-story takes the nation by storm, we all join in and voice are opinions, especially if it involves a white cop and a person of color.  Because such stories get so much press, we seem to forget what Whoopi said about all the good cops out there.

There is no room in any police force for a bad cop. And the law should be upheld when it has been proven…in a court of law, not the court of public opinion, that a bad cop has violated the rights of a citizen of any color.

We are at a fork in the road. Our heads are being filled with stories that seem to force us to take sides. Too many of us go blindly down one road because it fits the story we want to believe.

Let’s not forget that there are far more good cops than there are bad ones. Let’s also remember that we can never make excuses for a bad cop doing bad things.

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hero

If the tension in the Middle East, the barbarism of ISIS, the world economy and the breakdown of security in America weren’t enough for us to deal with, we can now add Ebola to our plate of concerns. While Oz was known to have its problems…houses fallng from the sky, bad witches making serious threats, flying monkeys, etc., our problems are weighing down our fragile spirits.

What we are in desperate need of is a hero. Perhaps more than one is needed, but other than going to our favorite deli and ordering one, where in the world are we going to find the perfect hero? In the White House? In the halls of Congress? In the corridors of the Fortune 500? Among religious leaders? In Hollywood?

You know the lyric from the pop tune “looking for love in all the wrong place?”  Well, if we going looking for a hero in some of the aforementioned places, we’ll be looking in all the wrong places.

It’s very important to understand that while we think of our times as “the best of times and the worst of times<” we are not alone in our thinking.  There has never been a time in human history that did not try men’s souls. Humanity seems to have a pretty crappy track record in many regards.  In the last century alone there were over 270 wars, civil and otherwise, around the world, with a los of over 77 million people.  How many of those who were casualties of war might have been the hero the world was looking for?  And as fearful as we are of the possible spread of Ebola, consider the millions of people who died during the raging spread of the Spanish Flu (1918/19). How many heroes did we bury in early graves?

Today Americans are looking to the man in the White House for the hero we want to save the world.  Guess what?  The hero we need is not living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And that’s not meant to be an attack on President Obama. Considering the number of problems he’s facing at home and abroad, it is totally unfair for us to expect him to wave a magic wand and make all our problems go away.

Diseases, a bad economy and internal strife can all be dealt with if we put aside our prejudices and political beliefs. We can help turn the course of humanity in the right direction if we follow the yellow brick road…a raod paved with kindness, consideration and compassion.

But, it’s going to take a lot more than that to end the hatred the seems to be growing like a cancer around the world.  We will not find a cure for this cancer if we attack it with closed minds.  That doesn’t mean we have to condone any of the heinous acts committed in the name of religion. What we have to do is face some hard, cold facts.  Religion is, in my opinion, the cause of most of our problems. Not that religion is wrong, per se, but it is the stringent list of doctrines and sometimes archaic beliefs that instead of opening our hearts, bind them with heavy chains.

People are continually debating over wether or not the Koran calls for the blood of infidels. The debate is futile, because if even only one person is a “believer” of such an inhuman doctrine, there is a chance that such a belief will be embraced by hundreds, thousands and even millions.

Wanting a hero is a noble belief, but we have to be careful for what we wish for, because the perfect hero might not necessarily be an American, nor might such a fantastic hero actually be on board with everything we believe.

Alas. Our journey for the perfect hero is more than likely going to end up the way it did for Dorothy when, with the help of Toto, unmasked the less than great and powerful Wizard of Oz.

The real hero is inside each and every one of us. Every opportunity we have to be selfless and act for the good of others with no expectations, is one small step in finding the perfect hero. – Eleanor Roosevelt

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