When I was a kid, some 70 odd years ago, my friends and I were annoyed by, and frequently mocked, seniors who gave us advice about life starting with, “When I was a kid…” Now, the editor of the River Journal has asked me to write a little piece about my kidhood and graduation. How could I refuse; annoyance matures!
When I was a kid, there were no computers, no cell phones, no copying machines, no Google, no text messaging, no Power Point, no CDs or DVDs; even television hadn’t been invented. Special entertainment was via a plugged-in home radio; to see a movie you had to go to a theater (at the big price of 15 cents). Traveling anywhere by airplane was a rare special deal. There were no atom bombs, no drones, no supersonic fighter jets. We listened to big bands and jazz: Paul Whiteman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington. Our earliest years were dominated by the Great Depression; our teens by the Second World War (now ancient history, I’m sure, for grade-schoolers). But American morale was high.
After graduation and after the War ended, veterans got financial assistance (via the GI Bill) to go to college. As our society and economy expanded, the general level of prosperity rose. Most of us, by studying and working hard, got good jobs or entered professions. By and large, we were materially pretty well off and quite satisfied with our lives.
Now, unfortunately, despite (or, perhaps, partly because of ) technological advances graduates are entering a less simple world. Everything seems bigger, faster and more complicated. Economies have become global; what happens in Greece directly affects the availability of summer jobs right here in Westchester. Friendships are often electronic. We’re all getting fatter and less healthy. Mechanical errors have more huge consequences: an oil rig explosion can devastate a whole Gulf for a long long time.
What is my advice to new graduates? Take heart. Try to slow down despite your impulses – because living at a slower pace increases enjoyment, lets you savor pleasures more deeply and for a longer time. Don’t fall completely in love with technology; use it, but always remember that people, and what kind of lives they live, are what count – family, friends, lovers, others less fortunate than you. Always be aware that your lifestyle affects the whole world’s environment, which is fragile. In your personal life, try to settle conflicts openly and peacefully, and work, in any way you can, for our country to do the same in its international relations.
I wish you all the best!
Norman J. Sissman