Posted by: Kathy Harmon on 6/19/2012 | 0 Comments
Every year schools across our country invite noteworthy individuals to give their commencement address.  I cannot name the person who spoke at any of mine but I was struck by this one given by David McCullough at the 2012 Wellesley High School graduation.  His advice is timeless.  I think that all of us could benefit from a good rousing commencement address now and then.  What McCullough speaks about isn't just a generational issue - it is a cultural one.  If you could use a little advice, motivation and inspiration pretend you are in his audience, in cap and gown, with your life ahead of you and decisions to make.  It's never too late to craft an extraordinary life.  Enjoy!

"So here we are… commencement… life’s great forward-looking ceremony.  (And don’t say, “What about weddings?”  Weddings are one-sided and insufficiently effective.  Weddings are bride-centric pageantry.  Other than conceding to a list of unreasonable demands, the groom just stands there.  No stately, hey-everybody-look-at-me procession.  No being given away.  No identity-changing pronouncement.  And can you imagine a television show dedicated to watching guys try on tuxedos?  Their fathers sitting there misty-eyed with joy and disbelief, their brothers lurking in the corner muttering with envy.  Left to men, weddings would be, after limits-testing procrastination, spontaneous, almost inadvertent… during halftime… on the way to the refrigerator.  And then there’s the frequency of failure: statistics tell us half of you will get divorced.  A winning percentage like that’ll get you last place in the American League East.  The Baltimore Orioles do better than weddings.)But this ceremony… commencement… a commencement works every time.  From this day forward… truly… in sickness and in health, through financial fiascos, through midlife crises and passably attractive sales reps at trade shows in Cincinnati, through diminishing tolerance for annoyingness, through every difference, irreconcilable and otherwise, you will stay forever graduated from high school, you and your diploma as one, ‘til death do you part.

No, commencement is life’s great ceremonial beginning, with its own attendant and highly appropriate symbolism.  Fitting, for example, for this auspicious rite of passage, is where we find ourselves this afternoon, the venue.  Normally, I avoid clichés like the plague, wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole, but here we are on a literal level playing field.  That matters.  That says something.  And your ceremonial costume… shapeless, uniform, one-size-fits-all.  Whether male or female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray-tanned prom queen or intergalactic X-Box assassin, each of you is dressed, you’ll notice, exactly the same.  And your diploma… but for your name, exactly the same.All of this is as it should be, because none of you is special. You are not special.  You are not exceptional.Contrary to what your soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special. 

Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped.  Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again.  You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored.  You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie.  Yes, you have.  And, certainly, we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs.  Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet…But do not get the idea you’re anything special.  Because you’re not.  ...

Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools.  That’s 37,000 valedictorians… 37,000 class presidents… 92,000 harmonizing altos… 340,000 swaggering jocks… 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs.  But why limit ourselves to high school?  After all, you’re leaving it.  So think about this: even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you.  Imagine standing somewhere over there on Washington Street on Marathon Monday and watching sixty-eight hundred yous go running by.  And consider for a moment the bigger picture: your planet, I’ll remind you, is not the center of its solar system, your solar system is not the center of its galaxy, your galaxy is not the center of the universe.  In fact, astrophysicists assure us the universe has no center; therefore, you cannot be it.  Neither can Donald Trump… which someone should tell him… although that hair is quite a phenomenon.“But, Dave,” you cry, “Walt Whitman tells me I’m my own version of perfection!  Epictetus tells me I have the spark of Zeus!”  And I don’t disagree.  So that makes 6.8 billion examples of perfection, 6.8 billion sparks of Zeus. 

You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.  If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless.  In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another–which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality — we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.  We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole.  No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it…  Now it’s “So what does this get me?”  As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors...

By definition there can be only one best.  You’re it or you’re not. If you’ve learned anything in your years here I hope it’s that education should be for, rather than material advantage, the exhilaration of learning.  You’ve learned, too, I hope, as Sophocles assured us, that wisdom is the chief element of happiness.  (Second is ice cream…  just an FYI)  I also hope you’ve learned enough to recognize how little you know… how little you know now… at the moment… for today is just the beginning.  It’s where you go from here that matters.

As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance.  Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about, lest you too find yourself on the wrong side of a Baltimore Orioles comparison.  Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction.  Be worthy of your advantages.  And read… read all the time… read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect.  Read as a nourishing staple of life.  Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it.  Dream big.  Work hard.  Think for yourself.  Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might.  And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer; and as surely as there are commencements there are cessations, and you’ll be in no condition to enjoy the ceremony attendant to that eventuality no matter how delightful the afternoon.

The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer.  You’ll note the founding fathers took pains to secure your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–quite an active verb, “pursuit”–which leaves, I should think, little time for lying around watching parrots roller skate on YouTube.  The first President Roosevelt, the old Rough Rider, advocated the strenuous life.  Mr. Thoreau wanted to drive life into a corner, to live deep and suck out all the marrow.  The poet Mary Oliver tells us to row, row into the swirl and roil.  Locally, someone… I forget who… from time to time encourages young scholars to carpe the heck out of the diem.  The point is the same: get busy, have at it.  Don’t wait for inspiration or passion to find you.  Get up, get out, explore, find it yourself, and grab hold with both hands.  (Now, before you dash off and get your YOLO tattoo, let me point out the illogic of that trendy little expression–because you can and should live not merely once, but every day of your life.  Rather than You Only Live Once, it should be You Live Only Once… but because YLOO doesn’t have the same ring, we shrug and decide it doesn’t matter.)

None of this day seizing, though, should be interpreted as license for self-indulgence.  Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct.  It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things.  Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view.  Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.  Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly.  Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them.  And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.  The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.Because everyone is.

Congratulations.  Good luck.  Make for yourselves, please, for your sake and for ours extraordinary lives."                                                                    David McCullough

Memory loss has been a subject that many readers have written to me about over the past couple of months,  Most discovered during a holiday visit with a parent or grandparent that their loved one was "more forgetful", "less engaged" and "more fearful" than their last visit home.  Several of my readers asked for advice about lessening the fear and confusion associated with doctor's visits or medical procedures.  

One of my LinkedIn friends is Viki Kind. She is the author of The Caregiver's Path to Compassionate Decision Making.  I found this advice on her website and I thought I would share it with you.CARGIVER'S PATH TO COMPASSIONATE DECISION MAKING
When a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia is going to have a medical test or procedure, how can we help the person to feel less frightened and to minimize any suffering? If the patient is struggling to understand what will be happening to them, do a practice run-through and show the person the room where the test will happen. Or find a book with pictures that will help him understand what you are talking about. If the person with diminished capacity is afraid of being alone, you may want to introduce him to the nurses who will be working that day. For my dad, we tape-recorded the doctor’s explanations so he could listen to the information over and over again until he felt more comfortable.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the patient may be experiencing symptoms that affect his or her participation. These symptoms could be pain, side effects of medications, loss of hearing or sight, lack of sleep, an undiagnosed illness and grief, to name a few. Find out what can be done to relieve these symptoms to make it easier for the individual to participate in the process. Ultimately, our goal is to think about the quality-of-life questions from the person’s perspective as he or she will experience the consequences of our decisions.

I never burned a bra, the underwires were so hard to light with a Bic but I have quietly fought against the glass ceiling for all of my adult life.  I remember in my early career complaining to management that the other executive at my level was male and made 40% more than I.  The boss looked stunned at my ignorance when he responded flippantly, “Well of course he does, he’s a guy”.  Laws were there to protect me at the time.  But I feared losing my job and being tainted for future opportunities.  I stayed on and I’ve done OK. 

I’m not a rabid Hillary Clinton fan.  She angered me when she tried to make health care mandatory for all part-time employees back in the 90’s and I was a struggling business owner.   Her plan would have put me out of business.  But I found the March 14th Newsweek article, The Hillary Doctrine most compelling particularly side-bar Gender Matrix.

Here are some of the facts assembled by or extrapolated from the data collected by the World Economic Forum: 

  1. Educating a girl one year beyond the national average boosts her earning power between 10 and 20 percent
  2.  Countries with higher levels of female secondary-school enrollment have lower infant mortality, lower rates of HIV and AIDS infection, and better child nutrition.
  3. The WEF 2011 Gender Gap Index shows that a nation’s prosperity correlates with the level of parity between women and men (in education, health, economic opportunity, and political empowerment).   Countries with the smallest gaps in 2010 were Iceland, Norway and Finland.  Pakistan, Chad and Yeman had the largest.
  4. According to the WEF, the U.S. could boost its GDP by as much as 9 percent by putting more women in leadership positions in business and government and working harder to correct pay inequities.
  5. Women still only earn 77% of their male counterparts for equal work.
  6. In the Asia-Pacific region, countries are losing between $42 billion and $46 billion a year, according to the WEF by restricting women’s access to the workforce.
  7. When women earn their own money, they spend on their families at more than twice the rate of men.
  8. Worldwide, companies perform better and produce better ideas when their highest ranks have gender diversity.
  9. And from another source:  The first woman to rule a country as an elected leader in the modern era was   Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, who was elected as prime minister of the island nation in 1960 and later re-elected in 1970.    It is interesting that Sri Lanka ranked ahead of the U.S. in the 2010 WEF analysis.
  10. And from my own personal experience:  Women with whom I have worked are frequently more tactile (feelers), men more visual or auditory.  Decisions that are made with the input of both genders and several generations tend to be more thoughtful, fair and enduring.

Please share your thoughts with me..



Posted by: Kathy Harmon on 3/7/2011 | 0 Comments

Those of you who follow my blog know that I frequently share stories about my mother.  She joined a group called Alive and Kickin’ last year and it has changed her life.  The group consists of 18 individuals aged 62-93.  Cal is the eldest member.  One would guess his age at 20 years younger.  He is absolutely adorable both inside and out.   He has a lovely voice, a great personality, and a terrific sense of humor.  Cal constantly makes up lyrics about everyday activities. I swear if we were single and I was 30 years older, I’d stalk him like a cheetah.  This is a story about Cal. A
Alive and Kickin’ gets what they term “gigs.”  They’ve become quite popular.  A couple of weeks ago they were scheduled to sing at a convention of Baby Boomers in the ballroom of a major downtown hotel.  They had to be there at 7:30 a.m.  This created major anxiety over transportation, rush hour traffic and downtown parking.   A rather complicated carpooling and caravan system was devised where several members were to drive to Cal’s home and he would then drive or lead them to the hotel.  As my 86-year old mother was nervous about the event, my sister Sandy stayed the night to insure mother arose at 4:30 and drove her to Cal’s at 6:15.  When he hadn’t emerged by 6:30 they called and woke him.  He apologized profusely, saying that he had overslept and promised he’d be down in a few minutes.  One group left but my mom remained and within 15 minutes, Cal came rushing out with another apology.  Seems he’d fallen in the tub or he would have been down sooner. 

 Once they’d parked and located the ballroom, they climbed several steps to the stage, warmed up for about 45 minutes and then the ballroom doors opened to 1,500 attendees.  When everyone had settled in their seats they were treated to Let it Be, Celebration, We Are the Champions, Stand by Me, We Are The World and ten additional contemporary pieces.  They received a standing ovation.
Now, if you are 86 or 93 you may understand that climbing stairs or even standing for extended periods of time can be taxing, especially after getting little sleep the night before.  When the event concluded some of the group went to breakfast but Cal asked my mom if she minded if they just went home, which they did.

As my mom left the car she reached over to thank Cal for his kindness and noticed that his arm felt wet.  This troubled her; so later in the day she called Cal to check in on him.  His wife answered and said that Cal wasn’t home.  He had gone to the emergency room.  It seems that when he fell in the tub he got a rather nasty gash in the upper portion of his arm.  The group dresses in red, white and black.  Cal’s sport coat is a darker shade of red, which effectively camouflaged the effects of several hours of bleeding.  He finally agreed to get nine stitches after losing a substantial amount of blood. 

 Aside from his comment about a fall in the tub, Cal mentioned this to no one.  He didn’t whine and he showed up to do his part with a serous injury.  What ever happened to that belief system?  Maybe that’s why they are called “The Greatest Generation.”    
I've attached a video of one of their rehearsals in hopes it will make you smile and cheer.

Alive & Kickin' - We Will Rock You


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