This next week marks the end of the school year. And many Facebook friends are announcing their children’s “graduation” from Kindergarten or 5th Grade or 8th Grade.  My cousin’s oldest is graduating high school, which, in my opinion, is the only graduation in K-12 that counts (Congratulations Nicky!!)—six-year-olds in caps and gowns is a bit much.  My high school graduation was, ahem, a while back.  I remember there were 847 seniors in my graduating class.  I remember the girl next to me and I played tic-tac-toe on our programs while we waited for our names to be called.  I remember that I auditioned to be student commencement speaker, having written an eloquent treatise on environmental activism and looking out for society’s underdogs, only to lose out to a guy who started with “As Shakespeare once said, ‘All the world’s a stage…’.”  I’m not bitter.  Anymore.

If I were to redo that speech today, I’d probably revisit the underdog idea, adding reminders to be kind and not to take things personally. And, of course, recycle.  So here it goes, my speech to the Class of 2012, whether you are graduating from high school, college, or the school of hard knocks:

Press  the play button:

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, seniors, students, siblings, significant others, and family pets small enough to be sneaked in inside Mom’s handbag.  I am honored to speak to the Class of 2012 as you graduate today because when I stand before you, I see the future.  You are the future.  Not those hosers from 2011 or 2010.  I know they were also told they were the future, but we just did it make them feel better (kids need a lot of praise these days).  No, we all got together and agreed to give YOU the keys to the future . . . and we are really, really sorry that we wrecked it.  We know a body shop that could fix that big dent; you can get replacements parts in China.

Yet as you matriculate into—no, that doesn’t mean what you think it means, stop laughing and look it up in a dictionary. (pause)  A dictionary! (*rolls eyes*)—as you matriculate into the University of Life, you are going to find there’s a vast world out there just waiting for your gifts.  (Actually, I’m just joshin’ ya—it’s really like Thunderdome out there.)  So, let me give you a little advice as you leave behind the hallowed halls and over-crowded classrooms that have been your life for the past twelve years.

First things first, be careful to not put pictures on Facebook that make you look like a dumbass.  Going pants-less or mugging a trout pout might seem like a good idea at the time…actually, those are never really  good ideas…but all that will come back to haunt you eventually, just like that ironic tattoo of Pac-Man you got that you haven’t told your parents about yet.  Also, no photos of you making gang signs.  Only d-bags display gang signs without being in an actual gang.  And, if you are in a gang, no disrespect, you may want to keep that info in your inner circle.  Your grandmother, who learned about gangs from watching a lot of TruTV, just signed up for a Facebook account last week and will see those photos when she tries to poke you.  No matter how many Facebook statuses tell you how to legally protect your privacy, privacy is a myth and those pictures are out there for all the world to see and, one day, our alien overlords will spend hours laughing at you looking like a jackass without your pants.

To the young men here, I urge you to respect women because we are 51% of the population, and one day we won’t be making seventy-cents on the dollar, we’ll be making seventy-five.  To the ladies, I say the same thing, respect yourselves and each other.  Hell may have no fury like a woman scorned, but if she’s shown being scorned on a reality television show, it sets the women’s movement back generations.  Also, keep away from mommy blogs because I hear they’re vicious.  You know what?  Everyone just avoid any comments on any blogs and news sites because anyone can and will say anything stupid when they do it anonymously. (Except for the ones at http://www.whatscamilledewing.wordpress.com.  The comments there are awesome!)

Guys, keep it in your pants, and by “it,” I mean your phone.  Stop checking the score during movies and dinners, no getting updates at your cousin’s wedding and your granddad’s birthday.  There is no text so important that you have to interrupt the proceedings—I have a stepson; I know.  I’d give girls the same advice, but I know a phone is as essential to a young woman as breathing or a fab lip gloss color.  Just take a day and turn off the electronics and enjoy the sunset, and when you figure out how to do that, please show me.

Know that your best days are still ahead of you, no matter what age you are, no matter how wonderful it is today.  Hang onto that and you’ll be able to get up every morning eager to start your day.  And girls, no matter how tempting, don’t play the “what if” game.  That kiss at prom/homecoming/the beach felt nice, but just enjoy it in the moment. Pining away for that guy twenty years later because your husband is ignoring you during his fantasy baseball draft does not a soulmate make.

Now look over at your parents.  See their beaming faces?  I got bad news and worse news about them.  First the bad:  They’re human.  Not gods.  Like you, they have defects and passions.  They’ve gotten you this far, some making it seem easy, but now that you’re out of the house, they have plans to turn your room into an art studio/man cave, so get your things out soon.  And here’s the worse news: Starting tomorrow, they are no longer responsible for you. By that, I mean, any issues that may arise during a therapy session because they a) didn’t love you enough, b) smothered you, c) didn’t appreciate your clothes/music/friends is no longer their fault come tomorrow.  Or maybe by the end of the summer.  Certainly don’t hang onto it for longer than the next five years, or at least be over it by the time you’re married and your fear of intimacy, which was born out of never seeing your parents affectionate with each other, is hopefully in check. Okay, just don’t hold onto those hurts forever, despite how appealing that may seem. No one gets medals for being stubborn, bitter, or resentful.  Like a wise man once told me, resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  And I’ll add that it doesn’t taste any better if you put it in a fancy glass with an umbrella.

Pay attention to stop signs, because you never know who’s cutting diagonally across the street.  Pay attention, period.  Sleepwalking through life seems like a waste of our cells.  Just sayin’.  Be grateful because it keeps you healthy.  And you may be the future, but don’t dwell on it.  Same goes for the past.  All you—all any of us—are guaranteed is this very moment.  Enjoy it.  Let the gratitude flow from you and it’ll come right back.  True story.

Truthfully, there are so many things I’d like to tell you—be brave especially when you’re scared, don’t let others decide who you are, never make a sex tape—but I hear that the typical American attention span ended somewhere around my third paragraph. So good luck class of 2012, and as Shakespeare and my mother-in-law once said,  “All the world’s a stage . . . and life is not a dress rehearsal.”

And now I will step aside to let the professionals show how it’s done: