Commencement Day 2020
As a mom, and as a woman, I gave this advice to my son whenever he, and I, were faced with an insufferable situation: “Bear with it.” His inevitable reply was: “I don’t want to bear with it.” “Then,” I concluded, “You are only going to make it harder on yourself.” Patience and tolerance, forbearance, pulling your punch, holding your tongue, and choosing your fights — those acts of discipline are not automatic, and they assuredly are not learned all at once. They are moments of self-restraint that often come in spite of your nature, not because of it.
Practiced often enough, and with sufficient diligence, those feelings of fortitude and perseverance become a part of you, hopefully a reflexive part of you. The intentional accomplishments of self-discipline can form a primer for composure, even humility, that, with enough prayers for help having been answered, can turn the corner for you, away from rage over outrage, and fury over the infuriating malevolence. I speak from long and painful experience. As a child, I was quietly willful, willfully observant, and single-minded in ways that only my dearly departed father understood. Had I not had, during my childhood, his strict, patient and gentle hand of guidance, I’d be a basket case today. No, I would have been a basket-case long ago. And I just might have fit into any of a number of grievance groups, the types that currently create the most insufferable of images, situations and consequences for our nation, America.
By my senior year in high school, I, a straight-A student, had been placed on Independent Study in French class, banished to the late-afternoon Cafeteria with the behavior-problem students about to flunk out of school. I was tempted to wear a scarlet letter, in the French equivalent, but my inner voice restrained me from further provocation of Adults-in-Charge. My English class of the previous year would have most likely first entered me into that rebel category of Isolated Student, had it not been for the tender mercies of a wonderfully wise, perceptive and compassionate teacher. She understood that there, seated in the back of the class, was a young woman, filled with an abundance of nascent talents, but misunderstood to the point of almost closing herself off to those talents — and all because of the insufferable situations and dictatorial people she had to tolerate, at home and at school.
While my home-front fights were thrilling and fascinating fodder for the nosy neighbors, the boxing ring of the public school arena set a few more rules and restraints upon my art of self-defense. My footwork was rather fancy as I stayed within the ring of the rules, but eventually I picked one fight too many, one that immediately hit me in the back, and in the front. What was that fight? I demanded of the Administration that a French language teacher be at least minimally competent in the language that he was teaching. I’d caught him being wrong one too many times in the translation of English words into French, and I was only 3 years into learning this language! How did I express my demand? Not out on the road, outside of the school. Not with a placard, or a t-shirt, or a loud voice. I typically am not a loud person. Speaking softly and carrying a big stick has always been my mode of offense and defense.
I went to an evening meeting of the Board of Education, a lovely group of middle-aged males, bored with education, most of whom were the parents of my classmates. I made my case, and I exited that room filled with books and hostile stares. Undoubtedly, those rich fathers thought me an ingrate. They were, after all, paying the largest part of my educational freight, through their higher taxes allocated, at that time, specifically for this regional school. I was poor, very poor, with a widowed mother who was not looking out for me or my best interests. I therefore looked out for them myself. These verities did not occur to me at that time, although they certainly have astoundingly dawned on me since my rather direct and verbal address to pinpoint a hideous problem — hiring the cheapest labor you can find, to teach as many subjects as possible, regardless of the effect on the student: As an adolescent, I was more adult than those adults. I was more concerned about the quality of education than were those pompous, well-paid prigs. And I was infinitely more aware of the long-term consequences of dumbing-down teaching and learning, and passing on to the next generation some of the worst lessons that previous generations had been intent on removing from the public square:
Favoritism, nepotism, hypocrisy, cronyism, sleight-of-hand hiring, and the type of insufferable two-faced phoniness that the children of those nouveau-riche businessmen would hand back, in spades, to their selfish parents. I was not a friend to most of those brats, but I was not their enemy either. I understood the dangerous delusion of the “world” that had been egotistically and crookedly constructed for those affluent children, a type of world that does not, and can not, exist, but the type of world those nasty adults would forever-after demand and expect, as an entitlement for their merely existing: a safe-space where the deck is stacked in their favor, just as it had been in high school. Out there, in the real world, those kids floundered fast. Some of them augered-in, dying drug-fueled deaths. I did not realize until today how “politically incorrect” I was, back then, making waves in the aquatic center that their parents had ensured would keep them afloat. I was a shark, struggling to survive, and I instinctively knew that the ocean, out there in the real world, can make a naufrage, a shipwreck, of even the strongest of boats.
One too many fellow classmates castigated me for my criticisms of the cosmos their parents had cagily crafted for them in high-school-land, long before the ominous advent of The Hovering Parents, with their tracking digital devices, preying upon whatever was left of Education in America. It was a signature moment of my young life, that momentous meeting that I instigated in the library of that high school. I’d already been compared to the gal singing the Harper Valley P.T.A. I got to live out some of those lyrics! The room had been filled with adults who said almost nothing to me, in response to my well-articulated, well-reasoned, and well-founded statements. The air, however, was charged with animosity. The next day, I was placed on my Independent Study, an arrangement that worked out quite well for me. I knew that as a problem-straight-A-student, I’d become a pariah, and I was being shunned. That role, within a very public isolation booth, I soon discovered, worked very much to my advantage. I discovered strengths within myself that I would not have otherwise known. Little did I perceive that my quiet dignity would become a source of inspiration for more than a few teachers who, on my graduation night, rewarded this Valedictorian so blatantly and brilliantly, with awards and certificates, right down to the A-V recording of my speech, that the detractors among my peers, of whom there were many, called that night The Debra Tanis Show. It still has a nice ring to it!
What goes around not only comes around, it makes a return trip on an almost generational basis. My children had to put up with a variant of the insufferably spoiled brats with whom I’d had to bear during my adolescence, and well into my adult years. By 1998, I removed myself, my children, and my husband from all of the pernicious pampering of offspring in the Suburbs, very intentionally isolating my family from what was to come. What was to come, has come. It is now time for the younger generations of Americans to wake up and fight, defend and protect the American way of life — against every vile assault on liberty from the witless occupants of this nation — this magnificent land of liberty whose very freedoms those malicious miscreants make obscene use of, in the most insufferable of ways.
All of those freedoms and liberties and blessings must be guarded: they rightfully belong to the previous generations who fought and died to preserve them for the future — that is today. Bear with it — and bear arms with it too!