June 14th, 2010
08:00 AM ET

Letter to the President #511: 'A graduation speech: what not to learn'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

I wanted to send a few notes that you might use if you ever decide to speak on a subject just as important: What not to learn.

I wanted to send a few notes that you might use if you ever decide to speak on a subject just as important: What not to learn.

Reporter's Note: Finally the day is here! My elder daughter is graduating from high school. We’re all caught up in the pageantry, of course, and we’re excited because she will be one of the student speakers. I’m sure the whole affair will be wonderful, with smiles and tears all around. But, as I note in my daily letter, I hope some lessons will be missing from her final transcript.

Dear Mr. President,

In good schools, kids learn so much these days it is hard to comprehend, and I know you’ve made a lot of graduation speeches about what they can do with that learning. But I wanted to send a few notes that you might use if you ever decide to speak on a subject just as important: What not to learn.

Don’t learn too quickly to be cynical. Sure, plenty of folks are in it just for themselves, but give each person you meet a chance to show his or her decency and fairness. Assume at the start that they can and will work cooperatively for the good of others as well as themselves. Let them make mistakes without you rushing to unbending, negative judgments.

Don’t learn to criticize. Killing new ideas, poisoning new relationships, stomping enthusiasm into the ground is the work of the sinful; it demeans the human race and exposes your own pettiness far more than it underscores the mistakes of others.

Don’t learn to shrink your world. Reach out always and in every direction to find what others have to show you. Recognize ideas and wisdom no matter where they come from; heedless of the ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, and/or culture of the source. The person who tells you that you are always right is a deceiver, and if you listen to them you are a fool.

Don’t learn to be a sucker. While maintaining an open mind and a welcoming attitude, do not allow yourself to be taken in easily by confidence men.

Don’t learn to pity yourself. Life is not always fair, and others do indeed have an easier row to hoe than yours. But remember that’s true for everyone. Someone out there is thinking of you as a lucky son of a gun right now, and they are right.

Don’t learn to be faithless, just because you have no proof. We call it faith, whether in God, or a spouse’s love, or even a private dream, precisely because it can not be proven.

Don’t learn to shirk responsibility or hard work. Our burdens not only make us stronger, but also make us appreciate the light days.

Don’t learn to be vengeful. We must offer forgiveness over and over again, because we’ll all need it sometime, too.

Don’t learn how easy it is to remain only among friends. Flattery is comforting, encouraging, and ego-inflating, but it can often be a lie. Some of the most important lessons about ourselves come from enemies who are willing to point out the flaws that our loving friends help us hide from ourselves.

Don’t learn to be rude. Politeness is the measure of your education, character, and respect for others; display it at all times, especially when it’s difficult.

Don’t learn to give up hope. Despair comes as easily as a breeze blowing out a candle, and in the darkness that follows, it is far too easy to be robbed of opportunities, your sense of justice, and even the relationships that you need to thrive.

Don’t learn that you have learned enough. You never have. You never will.

Just a few ideas in case you need a new speech this season. If you have a moment to call the family later and wish a happy graduation that would be swell, but I know you are busy. The best to you and yours.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Terry in Concord, NH

    I look forward to reading your daily Letters To The President!
    This one is GREAT!

    June 14, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
  2. Windy Evans

    Ahh, a die hard optimist. Your words are inspiring and beautiful. This world could use more dedicated optimists. I pray my own children will grow- up valuing optimism in its pure form. With so much cynicism, it truly feels like a shot in the dark sometimes to pray and hope. Warm wishes to your daughter as she moves on. May she continue to bring joy to the tasks and people who surround her.
    Mrs. Evans in Orlando "EVS Orlando Tutor" on Facebook

    June 14, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  3. Cherie Bharti

    This is a beautiful letter with a great message
    thanks for sharing

    June 14, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  4. Tammy Christine

    Awwww very kind letter Tom, Good job PaPa, ya got her through high school! That is something to be proud of! Much love to you and your lovely daughter, be blessed my friend because you are! TC

    June 14, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  5. Alex Valiao (Fresh Meadows, NY)

    A lovely letter. I have always wondered what a graduation speech would be like after a very long time. It's good for my heart. It's a lesson that needs to be learned. Have a great day.

    June 14, 2010 at 9:46 am |