The Merry Month of June

“Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.” – Al Bernstein

June is a month imbued with memories and memories in the making. If I were the month of June I would be stressed out—so much is expected of it and 30 days does not seem long enough to hold all of the expectations. It is the month when summer starts officially—in fact this year it raises its sunny head on Saturday at 6:51 a.m. I know this because I read the comics every day, and in the strip Mutts, Mooch the cat is told this fact by his dog friend. (Over the years I have gleaned much wisdom from comic strips—it is an education in itself). It is also the beginning of the summer wedding season; the month of graduations; the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation for many a student.

I graduated from public school, high school twice (grades 12 and 13) and from university. I do not remember a thing that was said at any of these graduations. I do not remember what any of the speakers told us and barely remember the essence of the valedictorians’ speeches. Mostly I just listened to hear if my name would be mentioned, and since I was not a memorable student, it never was.

I have quoted Anna Quindlen’s commencement speech (A Short Guide to a Happy Life) a few times because I think she had some wise words to impart, and I liked what she said, but I wonder how many of those who heard it really went away with anything of import. I ask this because I read an article in the Weekend National Post by Benjamin Errett in a column called “The Week in Wit”. His article, cheekily called “Good Luck With Life” addressed “the futility of the modern address to the graduates.”

Errett’s advice to anyone picking up an honorary doctorate is to “just collect it” and not give a commencement speech because (a) they are silly; and (b) no one wants your advice. He does not stop there, and I think he has a point. He is not addressing public or high school graduates, just university, so if you are giving a commencement speech to those under the age of twenty, I guess you have his blessing. Here is his reasoning for not speaking to university graduates:

“….commencement speeches are silly. No one wants your advice. Your audience will have spent the last four years acquiring and honing their skills, at least in theory. (I like that he adds this line: at least in theory). They will have learned from the best minds in the world, at least in theory (again with the theory…) and if they don’t know much in practice, they at least do in theory. (!!) So the idea that you will impart an hour’s worth of wisdom on How to Live to a bunch of cynical adults sweating under mortarboards (and if I remember correctly a very heavy purple gown with a stole that kept slipping on a day that was over 90 degrees F) is a bit out-dated, to say nothing of the fact that you made your name in a world that looks nothing like the one they face.”

I remember little from the day I graduated from university other than the fact that I wish I had worn something really light under my gown and not the little suit vest and skirt and long sleeved blouse I had donned. It was hot and I could not wait for my name to be called so I could venture across the dais to grasp my hard-won diploma in my sweaty hand. It turned out that the diploma was really just a rolled up piece of paper tied with a ribbon. The “real” diploma arrived weeks later in the mail. I do not remember a word that was said that afternoon. Not one word. Admittedly, it was eons ago, but I believe that as I was enjoying my graduation dinner with friends and family at a favourite upscale restaurant of my choice, I did not remember a word then either.

Errett’s advice to those who ignore his initial advice not to make a commencement speech is this: “…if you have to talk, be funny.” This is the best advice ever. I remember if not the words – the essence of the valedictorian’s speech from my grade 12 graduation, and while she was sincere and probably said all the right things, she added a dollop of humour—and it was the humour that I remember—not the ‘go forth be successful’ message.

Published in: on June 17, 2014 at 4:40 pm  Comments (21)  
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Remembering June

              Remember June when you were a kid? It was warm outside and the last thing you wanted to do was sit in a classroom.  Yet, you had to endure exams even if you wanted to be playing baseball, or skipping rope, or just doing nothing. Remember when exams were over, and it seemed silly to still be in school?  But those days at the end of June were a nice breather—the teachers were a little more relaxed (once they got the exams marked) and many a June day was spent outside with your class under a shade tree, listening to the teacher read a book, or using art class to sketch a little nature, or doing a science project which entailed examining a pail of water with tadpoles and other tiny life forms found in a nearby mud puddle, or if you were lucky, the creek.

            June was also the month when teachers found time to take students on nature hikes or a picnic at the park.  It also featured the end of the year party. That party was always fun, but you knew once the summer was over, you were another year older, and in another grade which expected more of you than the grade you were currently in.

            One of the fun things that happened in June when I went to a one room school house was that we sang a lot. We had a music teacher come in during the week, but every day our regular teacher would lead all the grades from one to eight in a sing song. One of my favourite songs was “Puff the Magic Dragon”, the words of which take me back to a time of innocence, when summers went on forever and growing up seemed far away. The song, written by Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame) and Leonard Lipton is based on a poem Lipton wrote in 1959. (info from Wikipedia)

            Examined more closely from an adult perspective, it is actually quite sad—it is the story of a little boy who grows up and loses interest in the things of youth and belief in the imaginary. To jog your memory, here are a few verses from the song:

1. Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee

Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff,
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.
2. Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff’s gigantic tail,
Noble kings and princes would bow whenever they came,
Pirate ships would lower their flag when Puff roared out his name.
3. A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.
4. His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave,
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.  

          

Puff, the Magic Dragon

Puff, the Magic Dragon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  I am not going to ruin a song from my youth with rumours of what some of the words “really meant”—I am taking them at face value. And at face value they tell the story of growing up.

            As adults we can capture the children we once were with memories of songs like “Puff the Magic Dragon”. We can remember those days with a fond nostalgia that does not have to be lost. The days with seemingly no responsibility, when our parents sent us out to “play” and we were not confused as to what to do—we rode our bikes, went to the store for popsicles, explored nearby creeks, read while sitting in our favourite tree, played a game of baseball that needed no adult supervision or organization, discovered fairy rings, or just lay on the lawn seeing what we could see in the clouds.

           

Is June the beginning of summer bliss? According to Wallace Stevens: “A summer night is like a perfection of thought.”