TO THE CLASS OF 2013


graduation
cartoon courtesy of wall street journal

Dear Graduates:

“You’re pampered, privileged and oversexed–but at least your employment prospects are dim.”

This was the opening message from Rob LaZebnik in the Wall Street Journal. Mr. LaZebnik is probably correct about the difficulty of employment in these times. But there are many things you can do to fill in the free time you will have. Go to the beach, watch a movie, tweet, write a blog, or maybe hunker down in grad school. Maybe employment opportunities will improve in another four years.

Many activities take place within that precious group sitting so upright, serious and attentive, whether on a football field or indoors on bleachers. Are they really listening to the speech so carefully prepared and presented by some impressive person, and designed to instill a desire for excellence in their futures? Maybe some are, and everyone will take away some memory of the day, whether it will be the heat, the passing of the marijuana, bong, or just undercurrent horseplay. Ten years ago, my granddaughter had her little dog in her lap, which she passed to a friend when she went up to claim the coveted sheepskin. After all, the little dog had achieved degrees in both French and Communication during the past four years of his attendance with her at the University of Washington.

Seriously, the graduates of today are probably well-prepared for the challenges their chosen fields will bring. In a short four years they have become thinking adults and the skills and friendships they have formed will guide them through these difficult times. “Thinking” is the key word. They have learned to think for themselves which may be worth all the thousands of dollars their parents have invested in them.

I would advice them to ignore all the clichés of the typical commencement speech and do what their generation does best: get lucky.

BUT I CAN’T SPEAK SPANISH GRANDMA


Mark Twain once said, “My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years.”

Well, how hard it is to learn a language depends on what language you speak to begin with. If you speak English you have a head start as it’s a Germanic language. But German doesn’t make it any easier with all of its genders, 12 ways of forming plurals, etc.—and that’s only scratching the surface.

Some years ago, when a grandson started high school, he needed to choose another language to study, so he chose Spanish. However all the classes were full, but as he was passing an open door to the German classroom he saw it was nearly empty, so he went in and took a seat. A clever way to choose a second language.

Another grandson took three years of Spanish in high school, 4 years at university, and went to Spain for a semester of study. He lived with a Spanish family, and took his classes in the language, but when we went to visit him in Granada, and I said how happy I was he could translate for me he blithly told me “But I can’t speak Spanish!” The pronunciation was different, and people spoke much faster than he could translate.

A granddaughter fell in love with French and made it her major at University. I’m sure she speaks it beautifully, as it is a beautiful language, and the best part is that she married a man who also speaks it, so they can chat away and people like me who doesn’t even speak Latin can’t understand a word. I’m beginning to watch a lot of French movies though.

We live in the age of possibility though. Living in a diverse community, our schools teach a variety of languages. At the voting polls this month alone the ballots were printed in five different languages. English, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, and Russian!

When I was a student the choices were limited to Spanish, French or Latin. I chose Latin, probably because there was a very good looking boy signing up. But I took it for four years and I can’t speak a word of it, and had no desire to become part of the medical community. But yes, it is possible to become somewhat fluent in a number of languages today (maybe not Latin.)

“I GOT NO TEETH DARLIN'”


Oldtimer, clay sculpture, KSR

It’s hard to reconstruct a life through the memory of a fifteen year old girl, but Jean Cornelier deserves more of a history than he got.

He came to America as a young race car driver in about 1909, to race against Barney Oldfield, a famous driver who was the first to drive a roaring 60 miles an hour.  Barney had built a reputation by racing for Ford Motor Co., and he was a challenge for any young and daring young driver of the new “contraptions”.

There’s no record as to how well he did on the track, and other than a few gruff references to his racing career, that was his youth as far I ever knew.

He may have met and married my Great-Aunt Hazel in San Francisco, where she had been married and divorced from a prominent lawyer there, and thus he became my Uncle Jean.

Hazel had been born and raised in Grants Pass, Oregon, and this is where she and Jean settled down on a large piece of property out in the country where they raised chickens, cows and a few sheep.

They certainly had money as they bought several buildings in town, as well as many acres of land, but they chose to live in a rough cabin-like house consisting of one large communal room and a large bedroom, with an outhouse a distance away from the house, and a long dirt road which became a mudhole in the Oregon winter rains.

My first recollection of them was from a visit when I was about 9-10 years old, and coming from a city background, it was a delight to see the farm animals and help collect eggs, etc.

They were homely no-nonsense people, and I was a quiet and curious child and somewhat afraid of Jean, whose English was a bit broken and who did not communicate well with children.  I’m not sure if he really liked them much, or maybe me in particular.

He seemed tall and skinny, and was quite weathered looking, with wild coarse grey hair which never seemed to stay put. His face was craggy, with a very prominent nose taking up the center of his face.  His eyeglasses seemed always to be slipping down and being saved from actually falling by his nose.

He was taciturn and seemingly preferred to be alone, so I was pleased and surprised when he invited me to ride down to the barn with him to milk the few cows.  We bounced along down the hill in an old open-topped truck, narrowly missing large rocks and potholes, and rolling precariously over an open irrigation ditch with no sides.

He gave me my first red Delicious apple and pointed out the infinitesimal white stars all over the shiny skin.  It was probably the juiciest apple I ever had; cold and true to its name, delicious.  With apple juice dripping down my chin and all over my new “farm” clothes, I offered him a bite, and he looked down at me and said “I got no teeth, Darlin'”.

I had never seen anyone without their teeth, and on closer inspection I was surprised to see that he really did not have any teeth!  My Grandpa and another Great-Uncle used to tease me by clicking their dentures in and out, but it did not occur to me that the reason they wore them was because of the lack of real teeth.

My next visit with them was during the War, when I was 15 and we came to live with them for a year.  He seemed older and greyer, and the farm animals had mostly gone, but I think he liked me better.  When he found I liked poetry,  he went to a bookcase in their bedroom where there were several old beautiful leather-bound books and gave me a small book of French poetry.  I have always treasured it, and though I never learned to speak French, my granddaaughter is fluent in the language, so there is someone who may love it as I do.

I have always thought there was a lot more to Jean Cornelier than we ever knew.