By Jim O'Leary
An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.
June 23, 2001
Most commencement speeches start out with the speaker promising to be brief. Usually, he or she then remarks on the fact that nobody ever remembers a commencement speech.
This sounds like a promising beginning, but then, more often than not, the speaker talks for an hour, sometimes with the sun shining down on the poor sweltering graduates in their hot gowns, as they sit trapped and helpless and folded into a few hundred chairs with no water or bathroom in sight.
The speaker also tries to lay on the hapless seniors, who have already had 12 years of lectures, yet one more lecture, this one laced with platitudes such as "Climb, though the rocks may be rugged."
A happy exception was the speaker for this year's graduation in Creve Coeur, Mo. The 32 graduating seniors had the chance to vote on who they wanted for their commencement speaker and they chose George Smith, a beloved janitor.
Before speaking, he set up the chairs and buffed the gym floor. Then he spoke:
"Graduating seniors from Fern Ridge High School, I love you guys. It is your responsibility as young adults to maximize your fullest potential in a highly effective manner."
Then he asked the students to repeat this bit of poetry:
"I won't lose hope, even when everything seems to be all wrong.
"I'll maintain a positive attitude, and stay real strong.
"Nothing is ever as bad as it seems. And even setbacks won't destroy my dreams."
After the ceremony, he packed up the chairs and buffed the floors again. (I have Ann McFeatters of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to thank for this nice story.)
More thoughtful graduates
Here in Corpus Christi, at the high school Jeanne retired from, the seniors in a drama class conspired with their teacher to prepare a meal for all the maintenance staff for this 3,000 pupil public high school.
Almost none of the men and women who are the janitors for the school were able to finish high school themselves, and many of them have trouble speaking English.
The students and their teacher all brought so much food from home, that it looked like a covered dish supper put on by Norwegian farm ladies.
A chemistry teacher down the hall heard about it, so his honors chemistry class made ice cream and brought it over. They had some liquid nitrogen on hand. (Making ice cream makes a good experiment, don't you think? In a chemistry class in Ireland one time, the students made whiskey, all in the name of science of course.)
There were enough leftovers for all the janitors to take home tons of goodies.
And who cleaned up afterwards? The students did.
Texas nice versus Minnesota nice
Remember how your mother used to say, "If you can't think of anything nice to say, then keep your damned mouth shut!"
Well, I have something nice to say about some good ole boys here in Texas. It concerns two old guys, Texans, who retired from the US Navy and now spend lots of time fishing. Here's how I met them.
A while back, I met an old friend whom I hadn't seen in years. The last time I saw him, he was so over-weight his friends called him "The Heap."
He had just had a quadruple by-pass and a stern scolding from his cardiologist. Now when I saw him, I complimented him on how well he looked. I asked him what on earth he did to get back into such good shape after his wife had already measured him for a coffin. He told me, "I discovered the secret of the two-mile walk."
That started me off on my own walking career. I live a mile from the bay, Corpus Christi Bay. (Don't be impressed by this. In Corpus Christi, everyone lives a mile from the bay. The Mexicans call downtown here "La Playa," the beach).
So, the other morning on my walk, I saw these two old guys sitting on the seawall fishing. Behind them stood a great blue heron.
As I approached, the animal started to hop up and down, and flap its clumsy wings, as if it was courting somebody. It had seen one of the guys land a little mullet. He took it off the hook and tossed it over his shoulder. The heron picked it up and then, swallowed it head first, slick as you please.
I asked one of the fisherman about it and he said, "Oh, yeah, he's our fishing buddy. He catches more fish then we do, but he still stands there and waits for us to land one." Now that was way cool.
Then this morning, guess what happened. One of the old guys caught a sea gull. The sea gull was terrified. It was entangled in the filament fishing line and was flopping around like crazy there in the water.
The old guy slowly reeled it in. Then he took a towel, wrapped it around the gull and laid it on its back.
He gently unwound the filament, and operated on it with a surgeon's competence. When the gull flew away, undamaged, I complimented the old guy on his skill and patience.
He told me he always came prepared. He said he knew just what to do because he never wanted to hurt anything.
Up until then, I thought the best part of my walk was the sunrise, "when the first rays of light break through the patches of thin clouds at the horizon, spreading aside night's purple veil, and gloriously painting the dawn sky in orange and rainbow streamers." (Grady Phelps).
More Texas nice
At St. Patrick's Elementary School here in Corpus Christi, a fifth grade girl had chemotherapy, lost all her hair, had to wear a hat, and dreaded her return to school.
She was mortified. The first day back in school, she walked into her classroom to the applause of all her friends, and couldn't believe what she saw her teacher, and everyone else in the room, was wearing a hat!
Wait, I'm not done
The Texas Legislature, which Molly Ivins and others, such as myself, have often demonized, recently pulled the same stunt.
A beloved legislator from here, Rep. Irma Rangel (D), had chemotherapy and ended up bald.
When she returned to work after her long fight with cancer, she walked in to the House Chambers in Austin, stone bald, but with a hat on her head to cover her baldness.
She got a standing ovation - from Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives - and every one of them was wearing a hat.
Subject fresh bread
Stop squeezing the bread to find out if it's fresh! There's an easier way to tell. Look at the color of the bread ties, those little fastener twist doohickies or doodads they use to close the bread wrapper. The bakers of the world have come up with this color code, and it is as true in Minnesota as it is in Texas.
I checked this with Pete Chmielewski of Pete's Grocery, and he told me it was true, indeed, but he couldn't tell me how to tell in which month the bread was baked.
Fresh bread is delivered to his store five days a week, and each day has its own color tie.
They are Monday, blue; Tuesday, green; Thursday, red; Friday, white; and Saturday, yellow.
The colors go alphabetically by color blue, green, red, white, and yellow, Monday through Saturday, so it's easy to remember.
Don't make me beg
In desperation, I sent this letter out to a fellow columnist here in the paper named Ray Pearson, who writes "Punchline." I also sent it out to others, and "you know who you are!"
"Dear Waverly people of the web:
"A columnist, which is what I am now, is someone who sits at a typewriter for an hour staring into space - and then sweats blood.
"Writer's block is not procrastination. It is hell. It's been hours now, and blood is pouring onto my keyboard.
"I have a deadline, a drop dead deadline. I might have to get a job. Please, please send me something!
"Rumors, gossip, lies, made-up stories, tall tales, pious thoughts, anything. This can't go on much longer. I'm begging you. Jim O'Leary"
Kindly Mr. Pearson replied, "Jim, I'm not much good at giving advice. I will say this respect your readers.
"You are asking them to take time to read what you write, and for this courtesy on their part, you need to do your level best to give abundant energy to your writing - every week.
"Last point, seek short words for big impact. I get material from extensive reading. My mission is to search and swipe."
Exactly. So, now I am searching for anything I can get from you, my readers.
You all know I don't write my best columns. My readers do and . . . you know who you are!
Ed. note: It's not "whom" dummy.
Corpus Christi, Texas 78412
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