The Salem News
Friday, June 20, 2003
Do you ever wonder why Iím never invited to be a commencement speaker at a public school? Me neither.
But in 1988 I was the commencement speaker at the Forsythe School for Dental Hygienists. It was one of the more "fun things" Iíve done in my so-called career.
That career has made me somewhat controversial, so I began by congratulating the graduates on choosing a life of making everyone happy. They create warmer, brighter smiles, which encourages more of these. What nicer way to make a living could there be?
I donít recall the entire speech, which, having been to several commencements myself, I had sense enough to keep short, but I think I can reproduce some of my remarks here, in the middle of this appropriate month.
The theme was "follow your dream" and "donít listen to people who are negative about life."
When I was little I dreamed of flying in an airplane. Back then in small-town western Pennsylvania we still looked up in amazement when a plane passed overhead. I said I wanted to fly up in the white fluffy clouds, like the angels.
My Uncle Buck told me that the clouds are just a collection of rain, and if you flew into them it would just be like walking in a shower.
Well, yes. But later I discovered that when you fly out above the rain you find yourself in a golden wonderland of fluffy white clouds, just as I imagined.
This is not a criticism of Uncle Buck, who having said that flying wasnít magic, took me and my cousin Chuckie for our first airplane ride in a little four-seater at the local airport. We never got up above the clouds, so it was more than a decade later before I had the wonderland experience; the only thing I remember about that first flight was looking for the "cookie bag" that the pilot told us was in front of our seats. Didnít find any cookies; didnít see the fluffy clouds Ė itís a wonder I ever wanted to fly again. Yet I did, and, truth be told, I still check out the seatback pocket for cookies; eventually someone brings me a snack.
Most of the grown-ups I knew laughed at my dream of someday living in Europe. A few years later, when I was living in Greece, some Americans told me not to bother visiting Venice, since "it smells," or Paris, because "the people are rude."
I went to Venice first, because Iíd read that it was sinking and I was afraid to wait. If anything, it smelled like Venetian cooking, and who could dislike that? By the way, "they" still say itís it's sinking, but it canít have sunk far or Speaker Tom Finneran wouldnít be speaking there at a conference this month, would he.
Iíll bet "they" just try to scare Venice voters so theyíll support a tax increase "to prevent flooding." Weíll know thatís the case if this fall, Finneran tells us that we need a higher income tax or Boston will sink into the sea. To which weíll say, hey, itís not as if City Hall Plaza is the Piazza San Marco or anything; let it sink.
The French people Iíve met in three trips to Paris are, yes, frank, but not what I would call rude. My six-year old son and his father were with me on the first trip; because we were traveling by knapsack, Lance was told he could choose just one souvenir per country. We stopped at a kiosk on the Champs Elysees where he tried to decide between a pinwheel and a small Eiffel Tower, finally picked the latter. The elderly Frenchwoman in the kiosk chased us down the boulevard, insisting he have the pinwheel too, a gift from her. My favorite memory of Paris is walking toward the Arch of Triumph, the breeze from the Seine whirling the little plastic blades.
A friend told me that Disneyland is just a big dusty amusement park. This did not prevent my going there and discovering a Magic Kingdom in every sense of the word.
Itís OK, graduates, to be cynical about politics, about big institutions in general. But you shouldnít listen when people tell you that you canít fight city hall, because with Proposition 2Ĺ, we voters did. And if you travel, youíll find much of the world is beautiful, friendly and smells nice; you can choose to simply enjoy that part of lifeís experience, or work to make the negative things more positive. You can follow that dream to the clouds, smiling a bright sunny smile all the way.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited
Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and the Lowell Sun;
bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.