Saturday, June 21, 2014

Gimme an "F"

OMG. You thought about this day for many years and now it has finally arrived: college graduation for your youngest child.

A long time ago you calculated that at the same time this graduation would take place, you would be a) signing up for your first Social Security check, b) finally thinking about retirement, and  c) sitting pretty.

As if.

At first, this one looked like your typical small private college graduation: the quad filled with folding chairs, the library steps set up for faculty and dignitaries, the pipes-a-piping, a chill in the air off the nearby lake, and rows of attractive, expectant families. You noticed that they skipped the National Anthem. Were they making a point? Then the Chaplain spoke, careful it seemed to avoid actual mention of the “G” word.

You caught yourself thinking these thoughts, which were really about you and your own prejudices and sarcastic sense of humor. But, this was about your daughter, who worked really, really hard through, count ‘em, 18 or 19 years of pre, public, private day, boarding school, plus this fine college from which her mother also graduated.

This was not about you.

Well, maybe a little bit about you.


Having given a graduation speech yourself for another daughter, you knew a thing or two about these things. When speakers do their research as this one said he did, they find that there are only about 10 themes used over and over again.

He was, in fact, a heart-throb, at least according to the women seated nearby. He created and produced one of the most popular, groundbreaking TV shows. The college President described him as a storyteller and he turned out to be a good one.

Brad Falchuk, the Executive Producer and Director of “Glee” also turned out to be very funny,  irreverent, informal, and somewhat self- deprecating. He graduated twenty years ago. His subject: Failure!

Brad Falchuk, in Geneva NY
Sorry moms and dads, but he wanted our sons and daughters to fail miserably at something. He wanted them to lose at love, big time; get turned down for that dream job; get nastily, hopelessly fired; get shut-out, no-hit, slammed, belly-flopped; he wanted tears jerked, hearts broken, souls crushed so that our precious ones become miserable, shaking-on-their knees messes. We’re talking summa cum lousy, folks.

He was once a pretty nerdy undergrad with no athletic talent, who figured he could “get girls”  (the Women’s Studies Chair shuddered!) by getting into the coolest frat house on this campus. He put everything into it and got royally rejected.

At that point, he had nothing to lose, so he took an acting class, then another, then wrote a play, performed right behind where he was speaking. He made a campus film that got him into film school in LA, and the rest we know.

He arrived back on campus to speak as a big-shot and he got to stay in the big-shot house by the lake, to which he was escorted by a student. Naturally, it once housed the very frat that rejected him twenty years previously.


He had you laughing and crying while telling his story, You sat there listening, surrounded by family, your daughter up there somewhere in her cap and gown. You re-lived getting fired, the savings dwindling, losing a lot of stuff you once thought was essential to your life. You remembered years ago walking the little white dog at night, shaking your head at the whole thing, wondering when it would bottom out, touching the old ginkgo tree in front of the house for luck. It felt for a while as if you had a big fat “F” printed on your back.

Virginia W. McDermott, B.A.
And yet, as Falchuk did, as many of these grads will do if they’re lucky, you re-discovered long-dormant passions and skills. You're still on that course, learning to mine those skills a little bit every day.

Dear Grads, Dear Ginny, in life a gut course is not the easy one leading directly to an “A.” It is the one you feel in your gut, the course that scares you at least a little and probably a lot, one your parents may have missed. The one that deep down you know is right.

Take it.

E Note: You can view Brad Falchuk's excellent address here:


No comments: