Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Dawning of a New Age

Two milestones bookended the fourth weekend of May
As we heralded a graduation and a major birthday
Sean boldly entered his fourth decade
While Evan went forth on a stage without shade
And both have showed how to create your own way.

As a tribute, we'll review some advice
Well meaning folks provide to be nice
We'll try not to find fault
As we take all with a grain of salt
And hope as guidance it will suffice

JB Grinnell adopted Greeley's plan
As he headed for destiny and became an Iowa fan
After leaving the ivy halls of Yale
He embarked hardy and hale
And realized the adage, "Go West, Young Man"

In the 60's another college grad
Looked for advice from his mom & dad
Hoffman's "Ben' was pulled aside
As "The Sounds of Silence made him deride
The whisper of "Plastics" which became a big fad.

Though Harold's outlook seemed somber and bleak
He needed a perspective that was very unique
The wisdom of the ages came from a youthful Maude
Despite as a couple they appeared rather odd
But she gave him the answer to life that he seemed to seek

Always look forward and not back where you're from
Thoreau says to follow the beat of a different drum
Many important things aren't learned in school
Hard knocks and experience are much more the rule
As richness of purpose will surely come

Do what you love and the money will come
It's more where you're going then where you are from
The early bird usually gets the worm
Live with your values and always stand firm
Whistle while you work, or at least try to hum

My advice fit when I "wore a younger man's clothes"
But now it just causes most people to doze.
Sometimes the best lessons come from mistakes
As we marvel at the twists our life path takes
The truth is that no one really knows

The result of all of this week's reflection
Is to vow to refrain from offering direction.
Sean & Evan have become great young men
They don't need my What, Why or When
But they will always have my love and affection.

The day dawned bright and clear, much like the futures of Sean & Evan, on the morning of May 21st, Sean's 30th birthday. Dianna, Merry, & I flew east on a red-eye through Detroit and back to Des Moines for Evan's graduation in Grinnell. We motored the 50 miles along I-80 in a light drizzle and caught up with Evan as he was handing in his last paper after staying up all night to finish it. I picked up a new Grinnell ball cap as my previous purchase from 45 months ago is, much like me, showing signs of wear. We ate at a nice local restaurant and got the tour of Grinnell which didn't take long since we only had to negotiate 4 square blocks. We left Evan & Merry who had a block party to attend and checked into our spartan but acceptable Super 8 motel 3 miles from campus and caught up on our rest from the red-eye. We tried to reach Sean for birthday greetings but missed him and will have to wait until he comes to Portland over Memorial Day for a show with the band.

Saturday was relaxing and slow paced as we wandered around town on a warm and muggy day but was highlighted by some great music performances. A number of vocal ensembles performed in the Chapel, ending with a poignant ending by the G-Tones who paid tribute to a member who had passed away due to a pole vaulting accident the previous week. They created an award in his and another classmate honor and presented it to a current member. We then went to the Senioe talent show and were enetertained by 11 acts including juggling, dancing, and singing of which Evan popped up three times. He played keyboard on a Dylan song, guitar on a folk spiritual, "The Water is Wide", and keyboards on a Billie Holiday song, "God Bless the Child", all songs that are 45 years old or more.. I was able to record most of it on my camera for later viewing.

Sunday we met Evan at his apartment and Dianna & Merry cleaned up the kitchen and dishes while Evan & I returned $20 in cans and bottles, the classic college savings account. Evan had backed some muffins and his girlfriend Mona had prepared a variety of foods for an evening potluck so he held an impronmtu picnic at the park next door. Evan had a reception for the Spanish department so I got to meet some of his classmates and his professors before he headed out to the potluck.

Monday, Graduation day was clear and hot so we made it to campus early and staked out some good seats in the shade as the temperature reached 93. The speakers were all earnest and enjoyable as Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute lauded the values of Grinnell graduates, social purpose, diversity, community, mamagement skill, and scientific knowledge as keys to dealing with the issues of today. He highlighted 3 Grinnell graduates who changed the world for the better. Grinnell graduates who changed the world for the better - Harry Hopkins '12, the Architect of FDR's New Deal, Joseph Welch '14 who confronted McCarthy during the "Red Scare" of the 50's and helped turn public opinion around, and Robert Noyce '49, a Grinnell native who co-invented the semiconductor and founded Intel. Lanabelle Caplan Spencer '47 a longtime advocate and activist for gender equality spoke next and had some humorous and spot on college graduation one liners. Finally Sam Tanehaus '77, the NY Times Book Review editor emphasized slowing down and focus on the little things that connect us with each other. Check out the links at the bottom of the page if you want to hear more...
Evan paraded across the stage about 11:30 AM, one of many graduates wearing a green ribbon denoting a commitment to “pledging to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and trying to improve these aspects of any organizations for which I work.” As the temperature rose, the black robed graduates faded but survived to toss their caps in the air around 12:30 CST. We celebrated at the picnic and joined the family of Mona and her brother Dean who also graduated. In one of those small world items, Evan and Dean had lived across the hall from each other freshman year.
We went out for Mexican that evening and prepared to pack up and head home the next day. Tuesday morning provided us with a classic Midwestern thunderstorm and deluge, making us grateful for the dry weather of yesterday. We had a farewell breakfast at the A&M cafe, a classic greasy spoon housed in an old garage that my dad would have loved - I had biscuits and gravy in his honor. Mona & Evan's roommate Cecelia joined us and then we said farewell and thanks to Grinnell as we headed west to the airport, dropping Mona off at her house just north of Des Moines. Although the storms didn't reach the airport, our flight was slightly delayed and we didn't touch down in Portland until 8:00 PM where Rose was waiting with transportation.
Seventy two years ago my dad hopped a freight train the day after Missouri graduation and headed west, eventually working in the CCCs just outside of Grants Pass, which set the stage for our permanent move to Oregon 20 years later. Thirty five years ago, the day after my Stanford graduation, I hopped in Ernie the truck, and headed north to Medford and got a phone call the next morning luring me to Portland where I have remained and can view all my work locations over the better part of 4 decades from my 17th floor office window. Evan hopped a plane and arrives back in Oregon with limitless possibilities and a resume of extensive world travel so stay tuned.... For now, he'll have time to decompress back home while he sorts through his options.
It's a time honored tradition to offer graduation advice like that of Art Link letter who passed away yesterday at 97 - "Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out." or Emerson, "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. “Or Robert Louis Stevenson, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.", but on the plane ride a had an epiphany.
I read an article about generational differences and as a Baby Boomer (1946-1964); I realize I have a much different world view than Sean, a Gen-Xer (1965-1981) or Evan, as a Millennial (1982-2000). Boomers, in general, having had the benefits of a post war expansion were provided with ample opportunities and the potential for "me" centered entitlement has led to some of our social and economic excesses. - We tend to want our life to have meaning. Gen -X crew up during the economically challenging 80's and tending to develop more of an isolated lifestyle with value placed on individual expression. Millennial came of age in the midst of rapidly changing technology and want to be part of a cause in making a difference in the world - much more focused on the value to others than the benefit of self.
As a result, I realize that much of the advice and storytelling I've bombarded people with over the years is actually intended for someone I used to be, and is as useful to succeeding generations as tips on proper use of a slide rule or arguing the relative benefits of correction tape vs. Whiteout. Even many of my favorite phrases are dated - broken record, dial a phone, carbon copy. For another take on generational differences, check out the annual Mindset list from Beloit College....
So, I'll simply close with congratulations and the acknowledgment that I'm proud that Sean Ponder & Evan Ponder are here at this place and time, and the world is better for it - Love, Dad

For a recap of Grinnell graduation highlights, go here...

or listen to all the speeches and look for Evan around the 1:33 mark...

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