Farewell to the Class of 2022: Take Out Your Earbuds and Pay Attention (If You Can)    

Dear Graduates of the Class of 2022:

Most of you will probably forget the unsolicited advice I am about to offer you.

Honestly, I don’t remember a single graduation speech or farewell letter from my high school or college years. Yet, looking back on it, I do remember the subtle tinge of inspiration I felt at the time, as the adults who sought to use graduation events to inspire me somehow radiated a potent sense of noble grandeur. I hope to do the same for you . . .

I will be honest. This graduation season I am feeling neither noble nor grand because I am not sure how to feel about the past nine months. It was a year of starts and stops, incessant masking and unmasking, and, most of all, Covid surges and retreats. I had trouble hearing you the entire fall, and I didn’t really see your faces until the spring semester rolled around. Many of you mysteriously vanished for ten days, multiple times, because of ever-changing protocols and procedures. This year was hard on everyone. It was hard to teach, and I know it was hard to learn.     

I am also still trying to process some of the more enigmatic and disturbing things you shared with me this year about your lives. Many of you told me you can’t watch movies because your attention spans are too short. Some of you don’t think it is rude or disrespectful to wear headphones — with music playing, mind you — when a teacher is giving a lesson. Saying the Pledge of Allegiance, I’ve been told, is giving cover to institutional oppression or bias. More recently, many of you shared that you keep your masks on, not for health reasons, but because you want to hide your face from other people to minimize any type of human interaction. 

In light of this, let me dispense a simple morsel of advice to the Class of 2022: try not to forget the obvious things.

So many of your problems stem from a tragic amnesia of the obvious things. While your waning attention spans, extreme timidity, and lack of decorum and patriotism are worrisome to this proudly conservative Gen X’er, there is something else many of you are missing: there is no new wisdom, no chic form of friendship, no avant-garde variety of love or cutting-edge definition of higher meaning. We might transform our lifestyles, alter our methods of communication, or live by the guiding and distorted light of a morally relativistic age, but, as all of you stand on the intimidating abyss of adulthood, I beg you to forget what is edgy.

Instead, try to remember what is clear and timeless.      

I get it. You are young, and sometimes it’s fun to say and do outrageous things. No doubt, if your aim is misbegotten attention and superficial notoriety, social media will give you a megaphone like no other in all of human history. However, at the end of the day, remember that deep down in the substrata of the human soul, far beneath the superficial armaments we don with utter alacrity every day, the basis of fulfillment and flourishing — the facets of the human condition that bristle and pulse with enchanting possibilities — do not change very much over time.

This becomes obvious if you read books that span the ages, such as Aristotle’s Ethics and The Sermon on the Mount, Giovanni della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man, and Leo Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilych. The timeless quality of “the good life” also becomes obvious if you talk to a grandparent or someone suffering with terminal cancer.

While most of these people probably don’t have a Twitter handle, they firmly comprehend the obvious differences between substance and frivolity, wisdom and sophistry. They would counsel all of you to resist the lure of superficial technological entanglements and the deceptions of modern political utopianism. They understood that the most important revolutions ever encountered in life are the ones that happen within yourself, not the ones occasionally erupting around you that attract all of your attention and outrage.

What am I referring to? The spiritual revolution of accepting an all-encompassing faith in the face of nihilistic despair. The emotional revolution you experience when you fall in love for the very first time and realize what the sonnets and odes were describing all along. Life is a steady drumbeat of minor revolutions as we tweak and adjust who we are, what we believe, and how we wish to spend our time. If you are a thoughtful and genuine human being, these minor revolutions will continue to erupt until the day you die.

Trust me, these minor revolutions will put you on the right path. It helps if you allow your heart to be touched by a poem or if you allow yourself to be moved to tears by an elegiac piece of music. You mustn’t shy away from towering commitments or defining what it means to become great-souled. Don’t mistake fun for joy or genuine beauty for the hip aesthetic of the moment. Don’t avoid suffering simply because it hurts — embrace it. For when you heal, the scar tissue will reveal what it means to have genuine wisdom.

The painful truth is these minor revolutions usually require a gentle nudge, even an occasional rough shove, from the world around you. So, let me conclude by giving you my own nudge, in the hopes of encouraging you to embark on a journey of personal growth.  

I don’t care if you want to wear a mask because you have a cold or live with your grandparents — I care that you are afraid to engage with other human beings, unwilling to let your voice be heard, or listen to what other people have to say. 

I don’t care that you like to listen to music with headphones on — I care that you are ostentatious in your disrespect towards your teachers who are trying to use the power of the classroom to educate and empower you.

I don’t think you should ever be forced or coerced into saying The Pledge of Allegiance — I care, however, that many of you have no notion or understanding that you won a cosmic lottery ticket by being born in the United States, and you are probably the recipients of more freedom and opportunity than any human beings in world history. Yet, you have no notion of how this political miracle actually came to be.

I don’t care if you don’t have the attentiveness to watch a movie in its entirety — I care that you won’t experience inspiration or bliss through the power of storytelling. I can’t explain why, but my life is somehow better because I watched Field of Dreams and Dead Poets Society as a young man. Until somewhat recently, most people could quickly cite which movies or books changed their lives. Can you? 

Your lives probably won’t turn out the way you think they will. You’ll likely be a different person than you think you are going to be.

That’s not a tragedy, though. My friends, it is truth. Now. . . buckle up and take a look at the potential around you!

Jeremy S. Adams is the author of the recently-released Amazon best-selling book Hollowed Out: A Warning About America’s Next Generation. He has taught American civics for 24 years in Bakersfield, California and was the 2014 California Teacher of the Year (DAR). You can follow him on Twitter.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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