October 23, 2021

In praise of skylarking

“Do not take the entire world on your shoulders.. Do a certain amount of skylarking, as befits people of your age.” — Kurt Vonnegut

It’s graduation season again, but without the usual pomp and circumstance, caps and gowns, parties and festivities. Instead, we’re all cloistered because of a pandemic.

Still, I can’t help but remember that 50 years ago this month, I graduated from high school. (Egads, where did the time go?) And like almost everyone who ever got a diploma from any institution, I don’t remember any of the speeches from that ceremony.

I have no memory of the wisdom that was imparted from the valedictorian of our class or what our principal told us as we launched our futures.

Kurt Vonnegut

I know one thing, though, I’m glad our commencement speaker was not the author Kurt Vonnegut (not that he would have ever come to Odessa, Texas, for a high school commencement.)

I recently ran across a graduation address he gave at Bennington College in 1970, the same year I graduated high school.

His remarks, while sometimes funny, were laced with heavy doses of pessimism. But he did say a couple of things worth remembering.

Don’t forget to play

He told the graduates that despite their lofty dreams and the advice others had given them, they didn’t have to save the world. They were too young and inexperienced.

“Do not take the entire world on your shoulders,” he advised. “Do a certain amount of skylarking, as befits people of your age.” Skylarking, as he defined it, is a lack of seriousness. Goof off, horse around, play while you can.

When you have some life experience under your belt, Vonnegut said, do something for the common good.

I’m greatly simplifying his remarks, but these are the nuggets that I find the most useful, the most inspirational. Play and do good in the world – pretty sound advice for all of us.


Writing spark

The best commencement speech I ever heard was given by Steve Jobs to the 2005 Stanford graduating class. In the world of speeches, it’s considered a classic.

In it, he tells the young audience to listen to their inner voice, to live their own lives. Don’t let the opinions of others dictate your choices, Jobs said. His closing words were “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

If you were giving a commencement speech right now, what advice would you give to young people starting their lives? Write down a few bits of wisdom you’ve gleaned through your years. Then ponder on paper whether you’re following your own advice. If not, what can you do about it?

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