He Waits By the Phone . . . and Waits

Why do I bother?

Every year around this time I sit by the phone waiting for the call, and other than the good folks from Diapers to Diplomas Daycare, it never comes.

What call is that, you ask? The one from schools looking for graduation speakers. I mean, c’mon, these worn out Weejuns have a lot of miles on them. Think how much wisdom has been forgotten, uh, I mean accumulated, in decades of newspaper work. And hey, I’m not selfish. I’m willing to share.

Do schools ever call? Again, except for the good folks at DDD, the silence has been overwhelming.

So here’s a thought. Keeping the ever-present social distancing in mind, once again I’ll offer this graduation speech in virtual reality. Ready, here goes:

(Clears throat . . . )

Parents, distinguished guests, faculty, alums and soon-to-be-graduates, it’s a pleasure and an honor to be with you today.

And thus ends the formal part of my talk. Look it’s sweltering hot in here. You guys are sitting there sweating in polyester robes that probably feel like they’re melting into your skin while moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas are even more uncomfortable (it’s an age thing, trust me on this one).

So let me cut to the chase and tell you what I’ve learned over a long newspaper career that sent this vagabond newspaperman from the east coast to the left one, from Texas to Lake Michigan and a bunch of places in between. And I’ll wrap this speech up with a secret that most of the world misses. If you want to be a financial success, this is as close to a guarantee as you’re ever going to get. And yes, it’s at the end so I can keep you hanging around.

But first, here’s my learned truths

  • Right and wrong isn’t that hard to figure out. (But you are entering a world that is trying its damndest to make that not so.)
  • You get what you earn, good or bad.
  • Along those lines, actions have consequences . . . again, good or bad.
  • If you take out more than you put in the well runs dry (but we’ll save the lessons of taxes, social services and government for another day).
  • There are only two sexes, and your generation already knows way more about this than mine did at your age.
  • And finally, tattoos are overpriced and mostly permanent – something you should take into account when you realize Barbie dolls and monster trucks would’ve been your choice had you got one at age 10.

That’s it. Lesson over. Oh sure, I have a lot of other thoughts, and I’ll continue to stand up here at my virtual podium and blabber on for a while. But I wanted to get those in before you slyly pull your phones out and text, twitter and twit to whatever trips your trigger.

Let’s start with the society you are about to become a bigger part of. Let me share something said by one of the 20th century’s greatest writers, Kurt Vonnegut. The Indianapolis native said that “If we are wounded by an ugly idea, we must count it as part of the cost of freedom and, like American heroes in the days gone by, bravely carry on.”

He also said:

“And how should we behave during this apocalypse? We should be unusually kind to one another, certainly. But we should also stop being so serious. Jokes help a lot. And get a dog if you don’t already have one.”

Kindness, not getting all bent out of shape when you hear something you don’t like, not befriending someone on social media 12 seconds after reading their latest post . . . really?

Yes, really. It wasn’t all that long ago that people in different cities communicated by letter, carried by the U.S. Mail. Communication over a single idea might take months.

You can bet that helped slow down the overreactions and drama!

So it goes.

OK, I had a boss once who told me that the brain can only absorb what the ass can endure, so big finale graduates – and that secret I promised you. I’m going to split this into two parts – one about overall success, knowing that each of us may have our own definition. The second part will be how to make a bunch of money.

First things first. Want to be a success? Want it doggone near guaranteed? It’s five words – work harder than everybody else. Doesn’t matter if you are digging ditches or programming computers or selling widgets. Work harder than the other guys and you will be successful 90 out of 100 times. Why not 100? Because 10 of you will work hard, but do it wrong. Smarts have to figure in here somewhere, too.

And if you want to be rich, look around at what’s needed. Millionaires and billionaires were made by people who figured out that the sludge in the bottom of railroad cars could be repurposed and sold off. Or by guys and gals who thought of a better way to make bottle caps, and in turn became lid moguls. Or by folks who figured out how to bring toilets from the backyard into the house by simply adding pipes to take it out back again. There are always needs and always someone who’ll figure it out. Be that person if you want to retire early. And if you want to remember the newspaper guy who gave you the nudge, my e-mail address is below.

– Timmons is the chief executive officer of Sagamore News Media, the company that owns The Noblesville Times. He is a proud Noblesville High School graduate and can be contacted at