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What should an old alum tell young grads?

Boomer Grandpa checks in with a few friends and mentors for answers.

Boomer Grandpa — Loren Else column sig

It’s been quite a while since I’ve attended a high school graduation ceremony. I’m hoping I can attend one this year as my grandson graduates. I know plans have been getting changed and rearranged with the dropping of some COVID restrictions.

Hopefully, new plans will shake out that will not include the drive-up diploma pickup, highlighted by a trip to the Dairy Queen for an Oreo Blizzard.

When our grandson was a little guy, I remember thinking ahead to the year he would graduate. My wife and I recognized with some distress that the year 2021 would also be 50 years since we graduated in 1971.

We need the pomp-and-circumstance ceremony back where parents and grandparents can blow their noses and wipe their eyes due to severe allergies. Unfortunately, my wife and I both will not have a 50th class reunion this summer. Next year, for sure.

I do have another ceremony lined up. This coming Sunday, I have the opportunity to speak briefly at the National Honor Society and National Junior Honor Society ceremony at my old high school.

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My alma mater has changed. It’s now consolidated with a nearby community, has a different name, a different mascot, and is on its second new school building since I graduated.

The chance to speak to a group of students, some of them seniors, almost 50 years to the day I graduated, is extraordinary — for me. What do I tell the students of today?

I have some thoughts, but I also sent out an email to four friends of various ages and asked them that question.

So here we go. I’ll start with Ann Burkley. Ann is a remarkable and kind individual who currently serves as an emergency management lead with the American Red Cross.

“Be kind; give people the mercy you’d like to receive. Believe in the good, and be the good,” she said. “Don’t be afraid — to try, to do, to fail. Growth is in every opportunity, and we learn from trying and failing; it helps us improve. We fail when we don’t try.”

Finally, Ann believes we can choose to be happy by "being appreciative and grateful for everyday little things.”

Next up is Andrea Steen. Andrea is director of alumni relations at Century College. An excellent communicator, Andrea is energetic and kind. She had a practical approach.

“Understand the difference between what you plan to do with your life and how you plan to earn a living. Make indulging your curiosity a priority,” she said.

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Andrea felt it is important to "stay connected to family and cherish the small moments as much as the big ones.”

Now a coach steps up to the plate. Dwight Kotila, a great motivator of young men, coached baseball at the collegiate level for 22 years. Coach Kotila was elected to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Coaches Hall of Fame in 2019.

Coach Kotila told me he would stress to his players that no matter what “honors” you earn or receive, listen to parents and other adults, as they have lived life’s lessons that are not taught on an athletic field or in a book.

Coach would emphasize to “keep challenging yourself” and keep assuming that you don’t know everything. This approach keeps you humble, and hungry to keep improving and learning.

Larry Earles was the last person I emailed with the question. Larry is a decorated Vietnam veteran and retired from a career with the U.S. Department of Justice. Larry is a man of faith and character, and was a mentor to me.

“Accept responsibility for your life, decisions and actions. Honesty and integrity is the best policy,” he said.

He also sent me a Scripture, John 15:12-13. It reads: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Now it’s back to school for me — 50 years later. I may have learned a thing or two, and I’ll try to tell them — briefly, of course.

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Loren Else lives in Rochester and also writes the Post Bulletin’s “Day in History” column. Send comments and column ideas to Loren at news@postbulletin.com .

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