The graduation speech that my grandmother would give

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Every year when graduation time draws near, I hold my breath, hoping to be invited to offer a few words of wisdom at somebody's -- anybody's -- commencement ceremony.

Not that I've never been asked. I've been honored, thank you, to speak at quite a few graduations over the years. But none for my own children or any other blood kin who, for whatever reasons, might not care to sit in the sun in a black cap and gown just to listen to my advice.

Still, one can always hope to be asked. And believe me, I do.

It has been a long time since I graduated from high school. All I recall about the ceremony is my dad wore a suit and I didn't know he owned one. I don't remember any of the speeches, not even the one I gave. My classmates said they liked it because it was short.

There was probably a lot of advice. People love to give it and it's cheaper than buying a gift. But the words of wisdom that I remember best (in memory if not in actions) are things my grandmother said. She was a smart woman, self-educated, wise in the ways that can't be learned in books.

So here once again is a recap of my annual unsolicited advice for graduates (and parents). I call it "Things my grandmother always said or would have said, if she had thought of it."

1) When you meet people, if you shake hands, look them in the eye and ask about their mother, they'll probably say nice things about you at your funeral.

2) If you're going to tell a lie, tell one that people will believe. That way you'll only be known as a liar and not a lying fool.

3) Look after living things; feed your animals, cut your grass, be kind to children and old folks.

4) Don't pretend to be what you aren't or to know what you don't know. People forgive ignorance, but they never forget a phony.

5) Practice what you preach, or don't preach at all. It's better to be a heathen than a hypocrite.

6) Don't dip snuff around people who make you laugh. (It's similar to "don't spit into the wind," but more about the company you keep than the kinds of things you do.)

7) Never be rude. If you slip, apologize. The only thing worse than rude is tacky and God forbid that you ever be tacky.

8) Avoid confrontation in the heat of anger, especially with family. Remember, in some states, "the fool needed killing" is not a justifiable defense.

9) If you have to swallow a frog, don't look at it too long before you put it in your mouth; if you have to swallow two frogs, go for the big one first.

10) Never say anything behind people's backs that you wouldn't say face to face. They're sure to hear about it, unless they're dead, and you never, ever want to speak ill of the dead unless they've got it coming.

11) Don't start doing anything you don't want to keep doing forever. This applies mainly to marriage and children, but also to PTA, Rotary and church committees. And don't bother finishing what shouldn't have been started in the first place.

12) Never try to teach a snake not to bite; it's a waste of time, and you'll end up getting bit.

13) Seek first to understand and last to be understood. Ask questions. Listen to answers.

14) Show up, be on time, be prepared, follow through. Let your wealth be the gold others see shining in your word and your heart and your deeds.

15) Finally, try to lead an interesting life, a life of your own choosing. To settle for less would be worse than tacky.

It may seem that the world is in such a mess that you and your friends can't do much to change it. Don't believe it. This is your turn to shine, and shine you will. When you hear people say, "What's this world coming to?" tell them it's coming to you.

Thank you for listening.

Yes, this is your gift.

Sharon Randall is a columnist for McClatchy-Tribune News Service (www.sharonrandall.com).


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