Athens Review, Athens, Texas

June 6, 2013

JAYSON LARSON: Graduates: Flee, get swept away or learn to surf

Jayson Larson
The Athens Review

ATHENS — I’ve got an old political cartoon clipped from a newspaper and taped to the front of the computer in my office.

In it, a little, wide-eyed guy stands on a beach with a floatie around his waist. Roaring in from the right, a wave as high as the entire clipping is curling overhead as he looks above in awe.

The cartoon implies the little guy has three options at this point:

Option A: Flee

Option B: Stand still and get swept out to sea

Option C: Learn to surf

Listen up, Class of 2013. I’m talking to you.

Tomorrow night, your class — some 180 Athens High School students strong — will stand up out of a chair, walk toward the stage, accept a diploma and walk into the next phase of life.

In the next few paragraphs, I’d like to lay out some of the crazy, emotional, unreal, heartbreaking, breathtaking, joy-filled, depressing, exasperating, unforgettable things you will very likely be facing as you transition into adulthood — where the other side of consequences and responsibility can be found. You know, the side where you still have the thrill of getting the keys to the car, but you also have the burden of paying for the insurance, the gas and the tickets, too.

Anyway, I’d like to tell you all about that stuff, but I’m not going to. In fact, I’m not really qualified.

I can tell you what I’ve been through, what I think, what I know (and what I think I know) and what I’ve read. I can tell you my hits and misses, my cherished memories and my regrets. But those things would only describe the experience I’ve had riding my wave.

There’s a wave out there for you, too, and it offers a unique ride. That’s a promise. In a world that offers so few truths, take that one to heart. There is a wave coming. The question is, what are you going to do when it gets here? 

Fourteen years ago, I read a column in the Dallas Morning News written by a man named Trey Graham. Graham, who had been in the Army before taking on a life of ministry, writing and public speaking, shared 50 lessons he had learned in the service.

Applying these principles to your life will help you ride a wave, rather than be swallowed by it. Here’s a sampling of what Graham wrote:

• There’s always someone who outranks you.

• Work hard, even when you are tired and hungry.

• Thank people for their service.

• Reward those who do a good job; correct those who don’t.

• Take care of your own stuff.

• Clean up after yourself.

• Return it after you have borrowed it.

• Always care for the wounded.

• Say, “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am” and “thank you.”

• Tell the truth all the time, even when it hurts.

• Learn how to respectfully disagree with the boss and then support him when he doesn’t see things your way.

• Admit when you are wrong.

• Honor those who have gone before you; help those who come after you.

• Write letters home.

• When you are in charge, take charge; when you aren’t in charge, support whomever is.

• You can always improve.

Though I haven’t been able to memorize a majority of those points, I’ve put their general lessons to practice in my life — with one of my favorites being Graham’s assertion that, “If you’re not 10 minutes early, you’re late.” I’m still late sometimes, but these words were so impactful to me, a photocopied version of the column is tacked to the wall in the rooms of my 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter.

I hope they’ll take them to heart, too, and take that piece of paper off their wall, fold it up and put it in their pocket on the way to wherever that first wave is going to take them.

But enough about them. This is about you. Your life-changing hour is almost here. You might even be able to hear the water rushing in from the horizon line. Are you scared? Excited? Both?

Good. The waves are plentiful and sometimes scary on this side of graduation.

But man, are there some great opportunities for those who choose to surf.

Jayson Larson is editor of the Athens Review. He can be reached at editor@athensreview.com.