In the American West, high school graduations are juxtaposed with Memorial Day. Often, they’re on the same weekend, one a rite of passage, the other a marking of passage.
Let’s be honest here. There’s not a handful of Northwest high school graduates reading this editorial comment. They’ve got too much going on, family and good-byes and look-aheads.
What an exciting time. In further honesty, let’s acknowledge we’d love to be in their places – 18 years old, healthy, energetic, with all of life’s possibilities ahead. One caveat, though. We’d all love to be 18 again … as long as we are allowed to know what we know now.
Bill Gates, the American businessman so influential and powerful that he may not need background introduction, spoke to high school students not long ago. He told them 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. Among them, these: life is not fair, get used to it; you will not make $60,000 a year right out of high school; if you think your teacher is tough, wait ‘til you get a boss; if you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them; your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not; and television is not real life. In real life, people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.
Those are all great, and true.
Here’s another one.
“Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity,” Gates said. “Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.”
Our grandparents did see work as opportunity. And they worked, hard, through Great Depressions and World War II and the Baby Boom, to make better lives for themselves, and for us. They succeeded, too. Our complaints today are about the price of gasoline, slow Internet service, the housing market and smog, among many. Their concerns – and they rarely complained in front of us – were about having enough food for the brood, enough money to pay the dentist, enough wood to heat the house in wintertime. Smog? When a New Hampshire valley filled with wood smoke, Grampy didn’t see it as smog. To him, it meant children and the elderly were warm.
There are admonishments on these pages about Memorial Day, and how America has forgotten why it exists. In part, we can blame the holiday’s diminishment on the three-day weekend, and the chance to get away. Memorial Day was a bigger deal when it fell on a mid-week Tuesday, or Thursday.
Today, too few of us pause on Memorial Day to reflect upon the unparalleled contributions of our military veterans, those who have come before, and those who defend and protect our nation and our freedoms this very day. They have our unwavering gratitude.
Perhaps Americans can find greater personal meaning in Memorial Day by remembering everyone who has come before, our parents, grandparents and their parents, the people who saw work as opportunity, who served in our armed forces, who sacrificed through genuinely hard times so that we, today, can enjoy and thrive in this wonderful life.