Tonawanda News — On this graduation weekend, I offer an abridged commencement address of sorts to the Class of 2012:
“Congratulations, graduates, you have completed all the necessary classes, passed all the tests, run the gauntlet and crossed the finish line. For the rest of your lives, no matter what you choose to do, you will always be the holder of that diploma.
“As you begin the next phase of your young lives, you should spend some time reflecting on your high school experience. While not every mathematical formula you learned will be needed, not every science experiment replicated, not every book remembered — there were certainly many things that happened over the course of the last four years that will shape your life forever.
“High school is not like the real world in many respects — from now on, it is your responsibility to learn, to grow and to succeed without the help of teachers showing you the way. But in some respects, high school is very much like the real world. You’ve been forced to share space with individuals regardless of how much you like or don’t like them. You were given a list of tasks that must be completed satisfactorily before you were allowed to go home each day. That sounds a lot like a word you’re going to come to know quite well in the not-too-distant-future: work.
“But more than the experiences gained that might help if you find yourself sitting in an office cubicle someday — and let me say for the record I hope none of you meets that fate — you should reflect on the experiences that will prepare you to be decent adults.
“There is one question above all others that can serve as your guide: Were you kind?
“The answer won’t always be yes. As you sit here, I’m sure many of you can recall times already when the answer was no. That’s OK. This is a learning process and everyone has moments to look back on our behavior with regret.
“Of all the places to find some helpful advice, Jerry Springer signed off each day’s freak show with the highly ironic phrase ‘Be kind to yourselves, and each other.’ I might add the rejoinder ‘And don’t throw chairs at people.’
“But hurled chairs aside, Jerry is on to something.
“For too long, our society has preached the cynical mantra that ‘nice guys finish last.’ It’s plainly untrue. How well you treat the people around you has a direct effect on how well they treat you back. And no one ever accomplished anything great without the help of the people around them.
“The world you’re about to enter is all too often cruel. For reasons petty and selfish, people treat other people like garbage. Your job is simple: Don’t be that guy.
“If you let kindness serve as a directional you chart a course that’s fair and rich. Kindness alone does not begat material success. You must also be intelligent and driven to succeed. But all the smarts and all the hard work in the world will mean very little if it is absent the true feeling of success found with knowing you did it the right way.
Then, others will share in your success. They will work alongside you and for you — they will help you reach your goals.
“Of all the advice you’re likely to receive today, let mine be simply this: It pays to be nice to people because being mean comes at a much higher cost.”Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.