Always check your fly, and other good advice for graduates of the Class of 2024

Dear Class of 2024,

Congratulations, graduates!

It has been a long time since I could have worn a cap and gown. SIU Edwardsville. 1982. Whitey Herzog. Ronald Reagan. E.T. Jack and Diane. My world was simpler then.

Diploma in hand, I knew everything.

I knew, well, not everything.

I wasn’t wise enough to attend my college graduation ceremony. I was finishing classes and working full-time at this newspaper. Too busy. Pressed for time. I passed on the ceremony. They mailed my diploma. I should have attended, not for me, but for my parents and family.

Today’s Lesson No. 1: Hindsight. Can’t change what happened. Move on. But always think beyond yourself.

So what qualifies me to deliver your commencement address?

I’m not a famous alumnus who has been invited home to deliver wise tips and insights on how to be rich and famous.

Comes down to this: A long time ago, I was you, in a world as different as it was the same. Big dreams. Little money. Hoped things worked out. Overall, it’s been a good ride. I’ve been lucky.

My secret to success?

It’s still a secret, as far as I know.

But here are some simple lessons I’ve learned along the way:

  • Pose. Smile. Be cool. It doesn’t matter. Decades from now, everyone will get a good laugh at the photos taken this month.

  • Learn to play well with others. Be a good teammate. People fail because they can’t get along with others.

  • Proofread.

  • Never take a third strike. If you do, don’t blame the umpire.

  • If it doesn’t feel right, it’s not right. Be strong enough to walk away.

  • Ask for help.

  • Take your medicine. Get your check-ups. Don’t ever think you are invincible.

  • Shake my hand.

  • Look me in the eyes.

  • Say “please” and “thank you.”

  • Don’t throw away the instructions.

  • Follow the dress code. Don’t look like a goof.

  • Always check your zipper before walking into a meeting room or onto a stage.

  • Visit Maine.

  • Stay humble. Learn to laugh at yourself.

  • Watch group chats. Know for certain who’s included.

  • Don’t be a know-it-all.

  • Guys: Consider dance lessons. At least learn to move your hips a little.

  • Get out of the house. Social media is not very social, after all.

  • Don’t judge a person by his or her tattoos.

  • Visit Ireland. Or go overseas, somewhere.

  • There is a sauce for everything edible.

  • Read.

  • Don’t forget important lessons from COVID. One is that not everyone wants to hug you.

  • Don’t insist that others like your favorite music as much as you do. Turn it down.

  • Visit Estes Park, Colorado.

  • Hold on to daydreams. Imagination is a great friend in life.

  • Don’t butt in line. Wait your turn.

  • Go to college or trade school. Enlist in the military. Go to work. Do something. Gaps of empty time are not good on resumes.

  • Take a few chances. It’s OK to fail. Get up and try again.

  • Don’t wink at anyone. It’s weird.

  • Sing along. Humming is OK.

  • Be kind. Work hard. Smile. Breathe! Pause. Take a nap now and then.

  • Go to your graduation ceremony. Look nice. Be proud. Wave to the camera. It’s not only for you. It’s for those who believe in you.

  • Write personalized “thank you” notes for all your graduation gifts. It means a lot to the gift givers.